Typically, a personal injury lawsuit timeline like a car accident will take anywhere from 1 month to 2 years. The time it takes to settle or go to verdict in a personal injury case is very specific to each situation. For example, if you have a case with very serious injuries and the insurance coverage is not anywhere near enough to cover the damages, then a case like this will typically settle very quickly. In cases like these, the insurance company who covers the at-fault person will want to pay right away to avoid being in “bad-faith” for failing to offer their policy limits. An insurance company has a duty to protect their insured from financial ruin and one way of doing this is to tender the insured’s policy limits and settling a personal injury case. This settlement protects the at fault person from being personally sued and exposing his or her personal assets.
In cases where the damages are not as serious and the insurance coverage is sufficient, the timeline will be longer. For example, let’s suppose you are rear ended by a commercial Fed Ex truck. We know that there will be a large commercial liability policy with a company like Fed Ex. Normally, a company will insure their vehicles for one million dollars or more (in bodily injury liability coverage). So, if you receive a relatively minor whiplash injury, then the insurance company or self insured company will want to wait 3-6 months to see the true extent of your injuries. The attorney will also want to make sure that you are at MMI (maximum medical improvement) before your case is settled. If no surgery is required, and the injuries are mainly muscular in nature, then the insurance company will typically start with a low offer. The more serious your injuries, then the more value the insurance company will place on your case.
If I or any other personal injury attorney is not able to settle your case for a fair value, then the only option in proceeding is to file a lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit makes it known that you and your attorney are serious about your case and believe in your case and your injuries. I will not file a lawsuit if I am not confident that we will win your case in front of a jury. If there are fault issues or issues regarding causation/damages, then it may not be prudent to file a lawsuit. A lawsuit takes time and money so it is necessary to conference with your lawyer about all the advantages and disadvantages of going to court. In some situations, if you lose your case, then the defense attorney and/or insurance company can seek to go after the losing party for their costs. If you lose and the insurance company has incurred say $9,000 in costs, then they can sue you to recover this money. This is why you always have to weigh the pros and cons of going forward with any lawsuit. Have your lawyer explain your case from the defense perspective so that you know what to expect.
At anytime after a lawsuit is filed, the defense lawyer (or insurance company lawyer) will have the opportunity to take your oral deposition. At your oral deposition, the defense attorney will take your statement, under oath before a court reporter. This deposition could last a few hours or could last all day, depending on the complexity of your case and how many parties are involved. In a simple rear end collision case, a deposition typically lasts 1-3 hours. It is very important to prepare for this deposition just as you would prepare to testify in front of a jury or judge. This sworn testimony can be used against you if it is found out later that you lied about any points or issues. So, it is absolutely necessary to prepare with your lawyer for your deposition and make sure you have all the facts of the crash clear in your mind, as well as the full extent of your injuries.
A deposition is called the “discovery” phase of a lawsuit and your attorney will also have the opportunity to take the other driver’s deposition as well as any depositions of eye witnesses to the crash. Regarding your medical issues and damages, your attorney may choose to take a videotape deposition of one or more of your treating physicians in order to play this deposition at trial. This will most likely save time and money as calling a doctor to testify at trial can be very expensive. All experts in a case can be called at Trial or the attorney may choose to “call” the expert witness at Trial, by deposition (thus playing the deposition in front of the jury). Having your doctor “live” at Trial can sometimes make a big difference in front of a jury as the jury gets to see your doctor live and make their own impressions as to your doctor’s credibility and appearance. I have seen doctor’s win and lose a jury at Trial so this is a strategic decision that can be made between you and your lawyer.
At anytime during the litigation process, the Judge may order that Mediation take place between the opposing parties. Mediation has developed into a very favorable forum for settling personal injury cases. In most cases, Mediation will resolve the dispute. But, sometimes one or more of the parties has no desire to settle and in that situation, Mediation will not be of much help. However, Mediation lets all parties put their cards on the table and will allow each side to see their strengths and weaknesses and the risks of proceeding to Trial. I believe that Mediation is a great tool in reaching a satisfactory settlement for both sides, prior to Trial.
A personal injury lawyer with over 10 years of experience, Ryan Malnar serves Colorado Springs with honesty & integrity.