March 20, 2020
One of the most common questions asked at Cravens & Noll, when it comes to personal injury cases: “How long will it take to process my claim?” The answer is, it depends. In our experience, some cases can be resolved in weeks, but some cases may take months or years before they are fully settled. The largest two factors in this determination are: the duration of medical care to reach maximum medical improvement, and willingness to negotiate a settlement.
In the vast majority of cases, the claim is settled out of court. But there is a small percentage of cases that make it to trial. Each case follows a general process that starts well before it makes it to the courtroom. This is how the process works:
Get Treated As Soon As Possible
If you have been injured, it is important to see a doctor or go to the emergency room right away. In the eyes of the judge and the jury, it could appear as if your injuries are not that severe if you wait a long time after the accident to receive treatment. Treatment also provides written documentation of your injuries from a qualified professional, which is key supporting evidence for your case.
The extent of your injuries makes a significant difference in how soon your case is resolved. If there are significant injuries like broken bones, brain injuries, or spinal cord injuries, this can extend the time frame many months or even years. The maximum medical improvement (MMI) occurs when the patient has recovered as much as possible from their injuries. MMI influences how long an injury case takes to be resolved.
Contact an Attorney
If you are out of work more than a couple of days, or have any sizable medical expenses, you should find legal representation. Personal injury lawyers will walk with you through the entire process so you do not have to worry about all of the legal details of your case.
Another reason you may need to consult with an attorney is if the other party is putting up a fight or doesn’t want to pay your injury claim. A lawyer will fight on your behalf to get the compensation you deserve, to include future medical expenses and future lost wages.
Discovery Process Begins
The law firm needs to go through a discovery process when they can investigate the details of your personal injury case. Your attorney will gather all of the paperwork related to your claim. You will also be interviewed by the attorney about your accident, your injuries, and how you are being treated. Normally this process takes several months, and it may take up to a year depending upon the number of treatment providers and the extent of your injuries.
The lawyer will assemble the pertinent documents and records including the police report, photographs, witness statements, medical records, x-rays, scans, and medical testing. Medical malpractice claims can be particularly complex, as attorneys may have to request records from multiple healthcare providers and hospitals to get all of the documentation needed to conduct a thorough investigation.
It is important to note for automobile accident cases that Virginia is a “contributory negligence” state. In an accident, if it is found you are even 1% at fault for the accident, you may not be able to collect damages from the other party. Therefore, the investigation and proof relating to causation of the location of the accident is critical in Virginia. Through an examination of photos, witnesses and accident scenes are essential.
As we stated before, the vast majority of cases never make it to trial. The attorneys representing the parties usually come to an agreement well before the courts hear the case. The lawyers may not need to get a third party mediator involved if they can settle everything between themselves. When they cannot, mediators and/or arbitrators are used to aide the parties. If the mediation or arbitration process is not successful, a lawsuit will be filed.
Arbitrators actually decide the case, on its merits. Once the parties enter into an arbitration process, they know that a result will be forthcoming. The arbitrator hears the evidence and rules on all aspects of the claim to include damages and compensation. The result is not appealable.
Insurers are much less likely to settle quickly for larger medical cases. Insurance companies want to do their due diligence before settling for big money. Hence the need for very thorough preparation and documentation of all claims.
Another strategy employed by insurance companies is that they will wait to settle a claim. The hope is that the plaintiff will not be able to wait for a larger settlement, so they will settle for a smaller monetary claim. Do not fall into traps and sell your claims short as many unfamiliar with the process do. You deserve full and fair compensation for your injuries.
Heading to Trial
Even after a lawsuit has been filed, there is still a possibility the case will not make it to trial.
The actual trial could be over in a day, or it could last for weeks. Even when the case is scheduled, the date could be pushed back further if the judge’s schedule needs to be adjusted. There are many reasons a trial date might get pushed back, so you will want to monitor the court schedule to make sure the case is not rescheduled.
Once the plaintiff and defendant have had an opportunity to present their case, the jury will determine if the defendant is liable and assesses monetary award for damages. Even if the plaintiff wins, the defense has the option to appeal, and the appeal could lower the total settlement awarded to the plaintiff. It is also possible the defense will win the appeal, and there could be a new trial. Therefore, some cases settle after the trial in order to avoid the time & cost of appeals.
After the trial is complete, efforts will be made to collect the judgment from the defendant and his insurer. In some cases, there will be a lump sum paid, or the court may order payment to be made in installments.
Finally, Be Patient
Your patience is one of the most important aspects of your personal injury claim. Often, people are not willing to wait to win the maximum amount possible for the settlement of their case. They receive less compensation than they would have if they had waited for the full process to play out.
To summarize, there are a number of factors that influence how fast your claim is settled. The complexity of the case makes a big difference in the case’s timeline. The amount of damages and the overall severity of injuries affects the timeline as well. The county or jurisdiction of the case makes a difference, as some courtrooms are backed up for many months with cases in the line in front of yours.
If you have not hired legal representation for your injury claim, it is time to consult with an attorney. Remember, the statute of limitations in Virginia is two years for most personal injury cases. Contact Cravens & Noll, P.C. today to schedule your first consultation.