To those with no professional experience in personal injury law; the legal process can be confusing and seem much more complicated than anticipated. Every case requires a different process due to unique circumstances but all cases follow similar paths from the time of injury until the plaintiff receives compensation. Understanding the legal process and how long each step takes will allow you to have realistic expectations and know when you can expect to collect damages, either through a settlement agreement or a court judgment.
Seeking Medical Treatment
This is the first and arguably one of the most important steps in the entire process as seeking medical treatment establishes the existence of an injury and documents when and how it has occurred. Your chances of winning a personal injury lawsuit are significantly reduced if you delay medical treatment because the defense is able to call into question just how serious the injury is and whether it was sustained during your accident. If your injuries are severe and you anticipate thousands of dollars or more in medical bills, it is at this point you will want to seek the advice of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Consultation with a Lawyer
During the initial interview, a personal injury lawyer will gather information that will help him or her understand the nature of your injuries and build a case on your behalf. The biggest mistake that you can make during this process is to withhold information or tell lies— even if you don’t believe that the misinformation can impact the outcome of your case. It is important that your attorney is not only able to see your side of the story but to be able to anticipate how the defense will respond. During this stage, information is power, so make sure that you hold back nothing and answer all of the questions asked truthfully.
Lawyer Determines Whether to File Lawsuit
There is the great potential for an out of court settlement before your lawyer needs to file a lawsuit and if he or she feels that there is an opportunity to negotiate a fair and beneficial settlement, the defendant’s attorney will be contacted in order to begin negotiations. The time frame for this process varies greatly from case to case because an experienced attorney will not want to seek a settlement until you have recovered from your injuries and have received all of the related medical bills. The exception to this is if your injuries have left you with a condition that requires treatment for an extremely long period— or the rest of your life. If your lawyer determines that it is in your better interest to file a lawsuit or negotiations toward a settlement fail, the suit will be filed at this point.
The Discovery Process
Once a lawsuit has been filed, each legal team will begin communicating with the other so that they may each begin what is called discovery. Your attorney will send a series of questions to the defendant’s attorney and will receive answers along with a set of questions from the defense. It is during this process that the defense will require a medical examination by one of their own doctors and you will be required to give depositions in the presence of both attorneys and an official of the court, who will record the proceedings so that they may be used in the event the case goes to trial. The process of discovery is one of the longer parts of the legal process because it is when both sides collect evidence and begin to put together their cases.
It is also possible that the defense will agree to negotiations at this point for an out of court settlement— especially if they believe through the discovery process that they are unlikely to win. Discovery typically lasts from six months to a year if the case goes to trial.
If no agreement can be made regarding an out of court settlement, mediation is usually arranged as one last effort at resolving the matter before it goes to trial. The mediation usually involves a third party who has extensive legal experience and who is able to be impartial while hearing both sides of the case. Most mediation attempts last one or two days and if they are not successful, the case proceeds to trial where both attorneys will have the opportunity to present their cases before a verdict is rendered.
Once the case has made it to trial, it is typically resolved in less than two weeks. Most people are under the perception that trials take longer periods due to the length of time that it requires to move through all of the other steps in the process of litigation. Most cases don’t even make it to trial due to the ability of attorneys to reach amicable settlements beforehand, but in the event that your case needs to be taken that far, you can expect the entire process to take about one to two years— sometimes longer.
Verdict and Payment
Once the court awards a judgment, or if a settlement offer has been accepted, it is reasonable to expect payment in about thirty days.
If you have been injured and want to know more about your rights or have questions about the legal process, contact us today for a free consultation with one of our attorneys. It is impossible to predict how your own personal injury lawsuit will progress and how long it will take before you are compensated, but we are able to give you an approximation based on the details of your case. We work on a contingency basis, so you will never need to worry about legal fees until we collect compensation on your behalf. If we are unable to so do, our services and advice are free.