Deciding to pursue a personal injury claim can seem daunting, and you may be wondering how long it will take to resolve. While each case is different, here is a general timeline for the steps involved.
First Six Months
In the first six months, you will typically focus on your medical recovery, and your attorney will begin the initial investigation.
Treatment and Recovery
After a personal injury accident, seeking medical treatment is the top priority. Not only is it critical for your health, but any delay between the accident and seeing a doctor can significantly impact your claim for compensation. If you wait too long, the at-fault party’s insurance company can argue that your injuries were not as severe as you state they are or that they were not caused by the accident their policyholder is being blamed for. It is also vital to follow any instructions and suggestions given by your doctor and continue treatment until you are fully healed or reach maximum medical improvement (MMI).
Once you hire a personal injury lawyer, they will conduct an investigation to build your case and collect evidence independent from the insurance company. That will involve, for example, taking photos or video of the accident scene, speaking to eyewitnesses, obtaining police reports, copies medical records, pay stubs, receipts for any accident-related expenses, hiring experts if necessary, and more. The amount of time an investigation takes can depend on your unique situation. For instance, if multiple parties were involved or liability is unclear, the investigation can be much more complicated.
Once you recover or reach MMI, your attorney will be able to accurately estimate your current and future losses to calculate your case’s value. With this figure and after examining the strength of evidence against the at-fault party, your lawyer will draft a demand letter and send it to the at-fault party’s insurer. The letter will be skillfully written with the details of the case and the figure you are requesting to be sent by a specific date to resolve the claim. The insurer will typically send a counter-offer, then negotiations may go back and forth for some time. Finally, if you can agree to a settlement, it will resolve the case.
Months Six to 12
In the latter part of the first year of your personal injury lawsuit, either the negotiations continue until you settle your claim or you come to a standstill with the insurance company.
Filing a Lawsuit
Under Virginia’s statute of limitations, you have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit at any point within two years of an injury. If you cannot reach an agreement with the insurance company, you and your attorney may choose to file suit. After the defendant (at-fault party) is served, they must respond within 21 days.
Months 12 to 18
The discovery phase will begin, which often takes some time, and usually involves:
Similar to a mini-trial, where the attorneys for both sides depose the other party and witnesses. Depositions can go on for about three months.
Independent Medical Examination
The defense will often request an independent medical examination, where a doctor of their choosing will examine you, and it can take months to complete.
Both parties will hire expert witnesses if the case has still not settled by the 16th or 17th month. Expert witnesses, such as an accident reconstruction expert, forensic accountant or medical expert, are sought out to support each side’s argument.
Months 18 to 24 and Beyond
In these months, negotiations will continue and mediation may be attempted to resolve the case before trial. Most cases end with a settlement; however, if your claim heads to the courtroom, the trial itself can vary in length. Some only take days, whereas others go on for weeks or even months.
If your case is settled, most insurance companies will send payment within 30 days of you signing a release of liability. On the other hand, if you receive a favorable trial verdict, it can take months or years before you receive compensation. This is because the defense can file post-trial motions and appeals that can cause the delay.