When someone’s been injured, their first focus, of course, is on getting better. However, often, when someone has a personal injury case, the first question they ask their lawyer is, “How long will this take?” The question is understandable. Each time they visit their doctor or physical therapist, they must fill out forms regarding the nature of the treatment and the cause of the accident. They may have out of pocket expenses and mounting medical costs. Their family may be suffering. Of course, when someone is hurt due to another person’s negligence, carelessness, or deliberate act, they just want the case resolved and behind them. Thus, the question, “How long until this is over?”
Understanding the Process in Personal Injury Lawsuits
Personal injury cases move through the court system in easily identifiable steps. However, not every case advances every step of the way. Settlement offers can come at any time during the process. That said, the longest road a personal injury case takes involves:
- Filing a personal injury suit;
- Receiving an answer to the allegations of fault from the insurance company representing the wrongdoer;
- The discovery process, which typically includes both interrogatories and depositions;
- Settlement negotiations;
- Trial; and
Each of these stages is described in more detail below.
The Stages of a Personal Injury Case
Once you meet with your personal injury attorney, and they have gathered sufficient facts, your attorney will file a claim with the insurance company. Once you have completed all medical treatment and have returned to your pre-accident health status, a demand package is sent to the insurance company and negotiations start. Should the claim not result in a satisfactory settlement offer, the attorney will prepare and file a summons and complaint in the appropriate court. Upon receiving an answer, the discovery process begins. As the name suggests, “discovery” is the process of discovering what facts the defendant has, as well as disclosing what information the plaintiff has. The attorneys rely on discovery to support or weaken their respective positions. There are strict rules governing disclosure during the discovery process. This process helps both lawyers assess the merits of any claim of injury, and any defenses there may be to such injury.
During discovery, both sides respond to written questions posed by opposing counsel. These written questions are referred to as interrogatories. Additionally, both parties, as well as witnesses, may be deposed. This means they are asked questions by opposing counsel. A court reporter is present, who transcribes everything that is said. These depositions also provide information to the lawyers about the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
Often, once the lawyers understand the case and all the details, they engage in negotiations in an attempt to settle the case. Lawyers take into consideration medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering when evaluating a case. They may also consider the cost of trial, the risk of a lower award after a trial – as well as the possibility of no award at all at trial.
The vast majority of personal injury cases resolve after settlement negotiations. However, sometimes, the parties simply cannot agree on an appropriate settlement. When this happens, the case goes to trial. During trial, just as you see on television and in the movies, witnesses testify under oath, in court, typically in front of a jury, who decides the appropriate amount of money to award the injured party. Of course, after a trial, there is the possibility of an appeal.
Predicting How Long a Personal Injury Case May Take
Because there are many stages to personal injury claims, no one can predict with certainty how long a particular case might take. However, as a general rule of thumb, most personal injury cases take a year or more. This timeline can be extended when the court system is backed up, as trial dates are dependent on court availability.
If You Have a Personal Injury Claim
If you have a personal injury claim, you need experienced counsel advocating on your behalf. At Hilton &Somer, LLC, our attorneys have the personal injury experience you need to handle your claim. From dog bites to wrongful death cases, we offer a hands-on approach. We provide personalized attention to our clients and their cases. In many cases, settlement negotiations provide finality. In other cases, a trial is unavoidable. Whatever the facts of your case, you may rest assured you are in good hands. Contact us for a free consultation today at 703-560-0700 to discuss your case with our personal injury attorney Fairfax VA.