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How Long Does a Lawsuit Take?

A common question when filing a lawsuit is, how long will my claim take to settle? While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, every case must go through the same basic steps. This article details what each step is and what you can expect throughout the legal process.
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Personal Injury Cases

What's the Problem?

One of the most common questions attorneys get while representing a car accident victim is “when will this case be over?”

This is an obvious question given that most lawsuits take considerable time and energy, and living with worries about the outcome of the case can be a constant source of stress.

So parties who expect a case to be over in a few weeks are usually disappointed. So, why does a lawsuit take so long?

Why Does a Personal Injury Claim Take So Long to Settle?

There are many car accident victims who believe any delay in a personal injury claim is due to an attorney trying to milk the case and make more money from their severe injuries.

But, in reality, much of the delay in most cases is out of either party's hands. There are even delays built into the rules of procedure which tend to drag the process out.

For example, the plaintiff usually has several months to serve the claim on the other party (120 days in most jurisdictions).

The defendant or insurance company then gets several weeks to examine medical records and prepare a response (+/-20 days in most cases), which equates to almost 5 months, and the case has not progressed any further than pleading.

Then, if the defendant files a motion instead of a pleading (such as a motion to dismiss or for more definite statement), this time frame can be extended even further to allow lawyers time for the case to be filed.

Discovery Phase

It is not uncommon for the pleading stage of many cases to take 6 months or more.

Although the personal injury claim may commence before the pleadings are fully framed, many prefer to wait on discovery until the issues are clearly presented.

Each form of the discovery phase has a response time attached to it (typically 30 days), meaning if one sends out document requests, the other side has 30 days to submit a response.

Depending on the complexity of the case, one will want the response to one form of discovery and an opportunity to review the plaintiff's medical records before propounding further discovery requests in order to see what admissions they already have and what they still need.

If a dispute arises in an injury case over a request that asks for something objectionable or a refusal to comply with a valid request, then a hearing on a motion to compel or motion for protective order must be set for hearing, and many courts have dockets that are backed up months in advance.

The discovery phase is easily the most time consuming portion of most cases, and can literally take years to be filed in complex cases, and a minimum of several months in the swiftest litigation.

The Trial Phase in a Personal Injury Case

The accident trial phase begins when all parties are finally ready. While a trial can last for just a few hours to several weeks, depending on the issues litigated, getting trial dates can often be extremely time consuming.

In many accident cases, a hearing is scheduled to discuss pre-trial matters like motions limiting certain admissions, meetings of the parties to discuss which admissions will be stipulated to and which will be contested, conducting a mediation, etc.

These pre-trial accident procedures often take several months by themselves, then one must find an available spot on the judge's trial calendar.

In busier jurisdictions, a judge may run a list of cases eligible for a court date, with the oldest accident case getting to go first during a judge's trial week.

Unfortunately, this can mean waiting for months while older accident cases go to trial during a judge's limited trial weeks.

Personal Injury Lawsuit Verdicts

Once the trial is over, the personal injury claim often is not yet over. There are still many factors including post-trial motions for a lawyer to resolve, like motions challenging the accident verdict. If one party feels an error was made at trial by the judge, they might file a motion for rehearing, reconsideration, or a notice of appeal.

An appeal starts a whole new series of legal proceedings that can take many more months or even years to resolve. If no appeal is filed by the lawyer, enforcing the judgment may also take time.

Sometimes discovery in aid of execution must take place in order to locate a party's assets that can satisfy the accident judgment. Again, this process can take months or even years, depending on how forthcoming the party is.

In conclusion, before you get angry with your lawyer about a personal injury case taking too long, be aware that he or she may have little control over that. The process takes time, and the bottleneck for most personal injury cases is usually at the courthouse.

In most states, the court system only takes in a small percentage of the annual budget (often as little as 5-8%), despite it being 1/3 of the 3 branches of government. The courts usually do the best they can with limited resources, but the result in many jurisdictions is delay.

Some actually may even see these delays as a hidden blessing. If a case takes time, that is more opportunity for the parties to reconcile their differences outside of court and to reach settlement negotiations.

In any event, without other attorney, this process can be even longer and more costly, as the party who represents itself often makes many mistakes that cause more delays and more expense. As a result, it is always advisable to have the assistance of a good lawyer when taking or responding to any sort of legal action.

How Long Does a Personal Injury Settlement Take?

After accepting an offer to settle for a personal injury case, the injured party will usually receive compensation money within 14-28 days from the date to settle. However this time frame is only a general guide, as how long it takes to receive your compensation can vary based on a variety of factors.

How Much Does it Cost to File a Lawsuit?

It's difficult to come up with an average number for how much it costs to sue someone, but you should expect to pay somewhere around $10,000 for lawyer bills relating to a simple lawsuit. If your claim is complicated and requires a lot of expert witnesses and an insurance adjuster, the cost will be much, much higher. However, if you hire a contingency-fee attorney as the party investigates, you pay nothing unless you win your case.

How Much Money Could I Get?

The amounts sought for compensation in a civil claim are typically referred to as damages. However, there is no easy answer for a lawyer to precisely calculate how much money will be submitted for a lawsuit. For example, just because two different car accidents with no deaths go to court for negligence, that doesn't mean they will both have the same amounts involved for total injuries.

If injuries are present in a claim, then there is one component of the damages that can be reliably, accurately figured out every time by a lawyer. That is related medical expenses and emergency room treatment. Nothing is free, and the cost of medical treatment can be astronomical depending on the type of treatment required and medication needed.

Industry Averages on the Terms of a Lawsuit

The lawyer must establish the the defendant had a duty to perform something. In many cases, this is not disputed at trial. The lawyer could motion to have their complaint dismissed if they have no legal duty to act in the case; therefore, the judge will dismiss the case. Many law firms will not even process your case if there is a problem in this department.

The average case length for the following types of lawsuit are:

  • Average Case, 2-5 years
  • Personal Injury -2-3 years
  • Medical Malpractice, 2-3 years
  • Patent Issues, 1-5 years

Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

How Long Do Class Action Lawsuits Take?

Some class action lawsuits for injuries can take as little as a few months and others as long as several years. These kinds of cases can typically take around 2 or 3 years to be resolved, while others can take even longer. When court rulings are appealed by a lawyer, the process gets prolonged further.

You can potentially avoid these long waiting periods if the defendant decides to accept a settle offer.

The lead class representative can vouch for all of the plaintiffs involved in your class action lawsuit, and they can also work with your group’s attorney to gather as much evidence and people as possible to support your claim.

With more people's similar injuries and certain evidence, your group’s attorney may have a case that is worthy of a settlement offer with the defendant to avoid litigation. Ultimately, however, there is no telling exactly how long your case will be.

While class action lawsuits are designed to be more efficient for the courts system, there is still the chance that the injured plaintiff will not get their financial compensation right away.

When to Seek Legal Advice

Consult with your lawyer to learn more about how long your particular lawsuit may take if you've been injured. Unless you reach a settlement for medical treatment and medical bills out of court (which could mean a much lesser settlement), it could take a few years for your case to finalize. If you been injured and feel strongly that your settlement is valid and worth pursuing the long haul, then lawsuit settlement cash may be an option for you while you await your settlement.

Personal Injury Claims

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