How long will my personal injury settlement take?
This question is asked by almost every client whom we have worked for. The answer to the question, as with the answer to most legal questions, is, “It depends.”
Sometimes people get frustrated with attorneys for talking around a question instead of simply answering it. On the other hand, it is also true that every case is unique, and every case has specific drivers that affect the amount of time that it will take to resolve the claim. In responding to this question, no attorney can predict the uture well enough to give an answer that does more than provide some rough guidance – to try and be more specific is probably doing the client a disservice because the prediction is likely to be off-base.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN FACTORS THAT DETERMINE THE LENGTH OF A CASE?
1) THE LENGTH OF TIME THE CLIENT IS RECEIVING MEDICAL CARE.
The single most important factor in determining how long a personal injury settlement will take is the length of time that the injured person is treated with medical care. In most cases, the attorney is not doing a lot of work during the time that the client is still being treated because the claim is simply not yet ready to be presented. In every case, a complete medical recovery where the client no longer has concerns about their medical future is the ideal situation. A personal injury settlement only occurs one time and covers everything about the claim – all of the ways in which a client has been harmed, even those that are likely to occur in the future. Because this is the case, personal injury attorneys are almost always going to move forward with a client’s claim only after the medical care has been completed.
2) THE STRENGTH OF THE LIABILITY ASPECT OF THE CASE.
Cases in which the parties disagree about not only the value of the claim, but also whether or not the party’s have a legal obligation to pay for the claim, typically will need to be litigated in order to reach an outcome. Litigation is a slow process and greatly enhances the length of time for a claim to reach its resolution.
Most cases in our firm resolve without the need to file a lawsuit – in fact, we resolve about 85% of our clients’ cases without having to sue. From the point where our client completes treatment, a negotiated settlement typically occurs within 3-4 months. It often takes 6 weeks or longer to obtain all of the medical records and bills. Next these records must be reviewed and a summary and demand package is put together for presentation to the insurance company. From this point, the negotiations usually take another 6 weeks (including time for the insurance company to review all of the records in the demand package). At this point either a settlement occurs, or the dispute continues, likely into the world of litigation, where the timeline will be extended.
If a lawsuit is necessary, then the timeline for reaching a settlement or a litigated outcome is going to be much longer than a case that doesn’t require litigation. A case that is on the trial track in Western Washington will likely take between 18 and 24 months to get to the actual trial date. If the case is arbitrable, then it will move more quickly through that system to a resolution, but the outcome can be appealed to a trial and even these faster tracked cases can still take around one year from the time of filing to reach their end.