How Long Does it Take to Resolve a Personal Injury Claim in California?
Understandably, many injured victims want to resolve their personal injury cases as quickly as possible. When you have been injured, you might be facing increasing medical bills and be forced to miss work for a long period. However, reaching a fair resolution to your claim can take some time.
How long it might take to resolve a personal injury claim depends on several case-specific factors, including the severity of your injuries, how long it might take you to reach maximum medical improvement, the legal complexity of the case, and whether your claim reaches an out-of-court settlement or goes to trial. In general, personal injury cases might take an average of six months to two or more years. How much time it might take to resolve your case will depend on how long each of the various phases last.
The pre-litigation phase of a personal injury case includes everything that occurs before formal litigation happens. This phase typically will last around six to eight months. Some cases are resolved outside of court during the pre-litigation phase without ever going to trial. However, cases involving serious injuries and disputed liability typically will have to go through the formal litigation process, meaning that they will last longer.
The steps in the pre-litigation phase include the following:
- Intake and investigation
- Completion of treatment
- Retrieving Records and Sending a Demand Letter
Intake is typically completed following a free consultation at which the attorney and injured victim meet and talk about the various aspects of the victim's claim. If the victim and attorney agree to representation, the lawyer will go over the fee agreement and provide information about what to expect.
Investigating an injury claim can take a few months, depending on the severity of the case and its complexity. Your lawyer might work with different types of experts to determine what happened leading up to, during, and immediately following the incident to assess liability. They might also hire investigators to track down and interview witnesses and might send preservation letters to prevent the defendant from spoliating evidence.
When someone is injured, how long it might take for them to complete treatment depends on the severity of their injuries. More minor injuries might be resolved within a couple of months while severe injuries might require ongoing treatment and continuing care. Reaching maximum medical improvement means reaching the point in the recovery process at which a doctor believes that the patient will not recover any further. This can vary broadly from case to case. In general, people who have been injured in accidents caused by the negligent actions of others will need to either reach maximum medical improvement or retain medical experts who can provide expert opinions about their future care needs.
You have a right to obtain copies of your medical records and should request them from each of the medical offices, labs, and hospitals where you received and are receiving treatment for your injuries. Alternatively, you can sign a release to allow your attorney to retrieve these records. How much time it might take a medical office or hospital to retrieve your records will vary based on the practice, but it might take a couple of weeks. If your injuries forced you to miss work, you can get copies of wage statements from your employer showing your loss of income.
Once your attorney has completed the initial investigation and gathered the relevant documents, they can make a liability determination and properly value your case. Valuing a personal injury case involves calculating the total value of your economic damages, including your medical bills, income losses, and property losses. Once your attorney has calculated this value, they will then calculate the value of your non-economic losses. These are the intangible losses you have suffered because of your injuries, including your physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, disability, scarring, and others. Since they are intangible, your non-economic losses are more difficult to value. Attorneys and insurance companies use a few different methods to arrive at a value for non-economic damages.
Once your attorney has calculated the value of your damages, they will give you a range of monetary amounts within which a fair settlement offer might fall. Your attorney will then draft and send a demand letter to the defendant and their insurance company. The demand letter will outline your legal claims and include a demand for a monetary amount to settle your case.
After the insurance company receives your demand letter, it will respond within 30 days. There will be additional time following their response during which your attorney will negotiate with the insurance company to try to reach a fair settlement agreement.
If you receive a fair settlement offer and accept it, your case will be over at this point. If the insurance company refuses to extend a fair offer to you or denies your claim outright, your case will need to move into the formal litigation phase.
On average, the litigation phase of a personal injury case will take around two years. This is the longest phase of a personal injury case and starts with the preparation and filing of the complaint. The litigation phase includes the following steps:
- Complaint and response
- Defense medical examinations
- Post-trial appeals
Your lawyer will need time to draft and file the complaint. The complaint is the initial legal document that is filed in court to begin your lawsuit. It will include a factual description of what happened, the injuries you suffered, and your legal arguments supported by case law and statutes. It will also include your demand. Your attorney might need a few weeks to draft and file your complaint and summons and to properly serve them on the defendant. Once the defendant receives a copy of the complaint and summons, they will then have 30 days to file a response.
Discovery is a long process that involves both written discovery and depositions. Written discovery involves the exchange of evidence between both the defense and the plaintiff. You and the defendant will be required to exchange all of the documentary evidence, photographs, and expert statements with each other that support your case.
The exchange of written discovery can take months. As the evidence is received by each side, it will need to be reviewed. In some cases, attorneys might have to file motions to compel if the other side is failing to comply with written discovery and turn everything over.
The defense will likely schedule defense medical examinations. These are medical examinations by a medical doctor working for the defense to examine you and your injuries. Defense medical examinations are not independent since the doctors have been hired by the defense, so you should be prepared for your exam by listing all of your symptoms and how your injuries have impacted your life. The defense medical examination is intended to help the defense prepare to defend against your case.
The discovery process might also involve depositions. These are out-of-court hearings at which your attorney and the defense lawyer will have the opportunity to question witnesses, including any experts you and the defendant plan to call. The deposition will include a court reporter who will transcribe it, but a judge will not be present. Both attorneys will be able to question each expert witness, you, the defendant, and other witnesses you intend to call at trial. Depositions provide the parties with a way to understand the testimony that will be presented in court and how each witness might come across to a jury.
Throughout the discovery phase, your attorney will continue negotiating with the defense. Many cases are resolved in settlements during the discovery phase once the insurance company has a better idea of the strength of the evidence. However, if your case is not settled, it will go to trial.
As previously mentioned, it can take an average of two years for an injury claim to reach trial. However, if your case is complex, it could take even longer. Trials can last for varying amounts of time, but most last from a couple of days to a week. At the trial, your lawyer and the defense attorney will call witnesses, present evidence, make objections, and cross-examine the witnesses called by the other side. After both parties have rested, the case will be sent to the jury to make a decision. Jury deliberations can last for a matter of hours or a couple of days. Once the jury reaches a verdict in favor of you or the defense, it will be read in court.
Even if you receive a favorable verdict, you can anticipate the defendant will file post-trial motions and an appeal.
If you or the defendant believes that prejudicial errors occurred during your trial, you can file an appeal to the next higher court. The post-trial appeals process can last for months to a couple of years. If the trial court's decision is reversed, your case will have to go through a new trial.
Hiring an attorney can greatly accelerate the claims resolution process when you have been injured by someone else. People who are represented by competent attorneys tend to be taken more seriously by insurance companies than those who are unrepresented. With a lawyer's help during the pre-litigation phase, you are much likelier to reach a favorable settlement agreement outside of court without ever having to file a formal lawsuit. The experienced injury lawyers at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC have successfully represented accident victims for years. To learn how we might be able to help with your claim, contact us today at 866.966.5240.