This is one of the first things a potential client asks me, and it’s an excellent question. The short answer is that it depends…
There are so many factors involved, but most clients are looking at 2 to 3 years.
The next question is “Why does it takes so long?!”
That, luckily, is much easier to answer…
When you or your family are facing a difficult situation because of an accident or illness, 2-3 years can feel like an eternity. But there are a number of reasons it takes this long to resolve a personal injury lawsuit. I’m going to run through those reasons so that, when your personal injury lawyer mentions them to you, you’ll know exactly what he or she is talking about.
There’s no sugar-coating it: Legal procedure takes time.
First you need to commence the lawsuit. It takes time to prepare and file the paperwork. Then we have to wait for the defense (usually we’re dealing with insurance companies) to appoint their lawyer and respond.
Next we’re scheduling discoveries, meetings, etc. When you’re dealing with insurance companies, the bigger they are, the longer they take.
Outside of legal red tape, both sides will take time to research, gather medical evidence, contact doctors or experts, etc.
This is painstaking work where detail and accuracy are everything. We don’t rush, and you don’t want us to.
We refer to the research period of a lawsuit as ‘disclosure’ and it can happen through documents, discourse or verbally. Sometimes it takes a year to get to discovery.
Next we enter the trial or mediation part of the lawsuit.
Whichever path you choose, it will take even more time. Not everything is resolved at the first mediation conference or trial date. Factor in more scheduling for those experts who may not be available during the first round of dates, judges who go on vacation, court closures or backups, and you’re starting to get an idea of why it can take so long…
What can your lawyer do to speed things up?
The one thing I do differently is that I try to move a case along as fast as I can without jeopardizing the value of the case (the last thing you want is a quick settlement.)
If your case is taking too long, I question that and make sure that we’re where we should be in the process and, if not, why.
There are situations where a case won’t resolve as quickly as we’d like and, generally, it’s because of unexpected events on the other side (a lawyer departing unexpectedly, not coming to mediation with enough money on the table, etc.) but again, my goal is to do everything I can to resolve your case within 2-3 years.
Haste Makes Waste
One thing I’m careful about is making sure that my clients understand why we shouldn’t rush.
The way I see it, you only get one shot at this. You don’t want to rush a case to settlement, because, in the majority of cases, we need to know what the doctor is saying about your injuries and your prognosis.
Often in the early days of a lawsuit, your doctor simply won’t know what the full extent of the injuries are because not enough time has passed, or it might take you time to figure out what your economic future holds – can you return to work? Are you young enough to retrain in a new field?
It is a complex process that’s almost impossible to fast track (and still get the results you want.) I think that the most important thing is that your personal injury lawyer takes the time to fully explain each stage of the process. You must understand what is happening and why.
And remember, unlike other types of lawyers, personal injury lawyers are rarely paid by the hour, so it’s not in our best interests to keep a case going longer than it needs to. It’s better to resolve a case in a time frame that gets the client the best settlement possible.