You’ve been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence. You’re trying to figure out whether it is worthwhile to pursue a personal injury lawsuit. You’re not entirely sure how long the whole process is going to take.
Your piling medical expenses and the fact that you can no longer earn a living as you used to are taking a toll on you mentally, physically, and financially. How long does a personal injury lawsuit take? Here’s everything you need to know.
Personal Injury Lawsuit Process – What to Expect
To figure out how long your injury lawsuit will take, it might help to understand what the litigation process looks like. Below is an in-depth look at each step in the process and the factors that might influence the speed with which personal injury lawsuits progress.
1. Retain an Attorney
If you’ve sustained a severe physical injury in an accident and the total damages exceed the amount you can claim in small claims court, you should think about engaging an attorney as soon as possible. They’ll look over the facts in your case to determine whether it’s a matter worth pursuing and what kind of compensation you would be looking at.
Keep in mind, though, that not all injury lawyers have experience litigating the type of injury you sustained. This is important as it is one of the most crucial differentiators between a winning or losing case. Make sure you talk to several attorneys before you settle on the right one.
Your decision should be based on their work experience in your specific case type, track record, fees, and how communicative they are in keeping you up to date with information pertaining to your case.
2. Filing the Lawsuit
Once you’ve settled on the lawyer you want to represent you, the next step is to formally launch your claim. A civil suit doesn’t begin until you file a complaint with the court, pay the required filing fee, and then serve the defendant(s) with a summons and copy of the complaint.
A summons is a formal notice issued to the defendant letting them know they’re being sued, while a complaint is a legal document that details the facts in your case. It explains their liability, i.e., what you’re suing them for and the amount of money you’re demanding.
Before a lawyer agrees to represent you, the first thing they check for is whether your claim falls within the window set forth by the statute of limitations. It determines how long to file a personal injury lawsuit (the window within which to launch your claim). While the specific limits vary by state, it is usually somewhere in the 1-3 year range.
Once your attorney confirms that your claim falls within that window, they can then go ahead and begin drafting a complaint to serve the defendant(s). The duration to do this depends on:
- The complexity of the facts in the case;
- The number of defendants in the suit;
- Whether your attorney negotiates with the defendants before filing the complaint; and
- How easy or difficult it is to serve the defendants.
Sometimes, it can be hard to pin down defendants to serve them. In other instances, they may evade service altogether. This can slow down the progression of your case.
3. Discovery Process
Discovery is a term that describes the information exchange between the plaintiff(s) and the defendant(s) before the trial begins. This information can include medical records, police reports, security camera footage, and company correspondence.
Depositions also form part of the discovery process and provide an opportunity for both parties and witnesses in a suit to question each other and provide testimony under oath. This is done in the presence of a court reporter who transcribes this information which can be presented in court as evidence.
The discovery process begins soon after the filing of the complaint and proceeds until 30 days before the trial commencement date.
4. Pretrial Motions
A pretrial court motion asks the court to rule on specific issues pertaining to the case. Lawyers representing both sides will usually file court motions on everything from discoverable and non-discoverable documents to the proper venue for the depositions. Some pretrial motions take more time than others and may have a bigger impact on the progression of the case.
For instance, the defendants may file a motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the case in its entirety. This type of motion takes significantly longer to draft compared to, say, a motion compelling a lawyer to turn over a particular piece of evidence.
Court motions can begin the moment the complaint is filed and continue right up to trial.
5. Settlement Negotiation Attempt
The majority of civil lawsuits usually get settled before trial. Settlement discussions can begin right after the first set of discovery documents are exchanged. These negotiations can be formal through arbitration or mediation or informal discussion through a phone conversation between the attorneys of both sides. An attorney cannot accept or reject a settlement offer before getting your approval.
6. Trial Litigation
If your case doesn’t settle, then it goes to trial. A civil trial judge or jury examines the facts and evidence presented by both sides to determine who should be held liable for the injuries and damages incurred by the plaintiff. Trials typically last anywhere between one and seven days.
Once it concludes, the judge or jury will determine the party at fault and rule on the amount payable. This amount is inclusive of the taxes on personal injury lawsuit settlements. If either party disagrees with the verdict, they’re required to file an appeal within 30 days. If the appeal is successful, there may be a new trial or settlement amount.
Factors Affecting the How Long a Personal Injury Lawsuit Takes
- How complex the case is – For instance, a medical malpractice suit vs. a slip and fall case
- The personal injury lawsuit settlement amounts involved – For instance, a claim worth $10,000 vs. $1 million
- The severity of injuries – For instance, a case involving brain injury or wrongful death vs. a dislocated shoulder
- The caseload in the courts within your jurisdiction – Courts with a larger backlog of cases translate to longer waiting times for your court dates
- Your patience – If you’re anxious for a quick settlement, your case will conclude faster compared to holding out for more money
Based on that, a personal injury lawsuit can take a few months or several years to resolve. It all depends on the specific circumstances surrounding your claim.
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