Personal injury lawsuits can take as long as weeks to several months or over a year to complete from the beginning of the legal process. Generally, there isn’t a specific amount of time that individuals can expect, as each case includes unique factors that can greatly affect the timeline of these cases.
Oftentimes, the negligence of individuals may lead to accidents and injuries, for which victims may qualify to recover compensation. This compensation could cover a variety of damages, including medical expenses and other costs.
Following any kind of accident and injury resulting from negligence, victims may wonder how long the personal injury lawsuit process will last, but the answer to this question depends on the nature of the case.
What to Take into Account in a Personal Injury Case
When beginning a personal injury lawsuit, there are multiple factors to consider. The different elements of these lawsuits may include:
Proof of Fault
In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must be able to prove that he or she is not at fault for an accident and subsequent injuries and that the defendant was at fault. In the process, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant owed a duty of care to the victims and that he or she breached that duty through negligence. This negligence could entail performing a certain action or neglecting to perform a necessary action to prevent the victims from coming to harm.
If the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit can prove fault and the extent of his or her injuries, and that those injuries resulted from the defendant’s negligence, the court may award compensation in a settlement.
The Different Types of Damages
In personal injury lawsuits, plaintiffs will seek monetary compensation (i.e. damages) for injuries and pain sustained as a result of another party’s negligence. If the lawsuit results in a verdict that finds the defendant guilty, the defendant will need to pay these damages to injury victims.
There are several types of damages that injury victims may incur following an accident, and some cases may even involve illnesses that lead to serious symptoms.
For instance, one case involved “popcorn lung,” which one consumer developed by consuming popcorn containing the harmful chemical diacetyl, which created the popcorn’s butter flavor. It can be difficult to determine how to know if you have popcorn lung, as its symptoms are similar to other lung diseases. However, the plaintiff, in this case, managed to prove that popcorn lung developed as a result of negligent manufacturers that failed to substitute the diacetyl with a safer substance.
Specifically, there are two main types of damages that victims may suffer in a personal injury case. These include special and general damages.
Special damages are those that result in an easily quantifiable monetary loss due to injuries resulting from negligence. These damages may include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Property repairs or replacements
- The cost of ongoing treatment
- Compensation for items that are irreplaceable
Many personal injury cases also involve a variety of general damages that are harder to quantify. These damages could include pain and suffering experienced as a result of injuries, including physical and psychological distress. Other general damages may include mental or physical impairment, loss of consortium, or disfigurement.
What an Attorney Will Require to Prepare for a Lawsuit
When getting involved in a personal injury lawsuit, it’s important for plaintiffs to have the support of an attorney. A lawyer with experience in personal injury law will be able to provide guidance and representation throughout the case, which is critical for individuals who aren’t experienced with these cases.
Personal injury cases often involve many complexities that plaintiffs may not be able to easily manage and organize. Any inability to sufficiently handle a case could compromise the plaintiff’s argument and lead not only to lost compensation, but also steep legal fees.
With the help of an attorney, plaintiffs may be able to dramatically increase their chances of success. However, they must be able to provide their lawyer with certain items.
The first item an attorney will need to know is the date of the accident, along with the contact details for witnesses to the accident. Additionally, lawyers will need all pertinent information about the plaintiff’s injuries, along with a formal medical diagnosis and treatment plan.
Plaintiffs must also provide attorneys with information about insurance policies that may be able to cover certain legal expenses, which could help reduce legal expenses and fees for the plaintiff.
Documentation is also required, including proof of injuries and lost wages, insurance documents, and documents regarding previous cases.
With all of this information and documentation, an attorney may be able to proceed with a case.
The Personal Injury Lawsuit Timeline
How long a personal injury lawsuit takes will depend on the many elements involved. The timeline includes several steps that an attorney may help walk plaintiffs through, but the process is often long and can take anywhere from weeks to years to complete.
The following is a general timeline for a personal injury case.
Seeking Medical Treatment
The first step of the process following any type of personal injury is to seek professional medical care. Even if injuries appear minor, they may develop into more serious conditions later, but it will be difficult to prove that they resulted from the initial accident if symptoms develop later. Not seeking medical treatment can also indicate to the jury during the trial that injuries weren’t serious enough to warrant the amount of compensation the plaintiff is seeking.
Speaking with a Personal Injury Attorney
The majority of personal injury cases don’t go beyond the claims process. Some may even be minor enough to avoid the need for representation from a personal injury attorney.
On the other hand, many cases involve more severe injuries and complexities that make it worthwhile to consult with and potentially hire a personal injury attorney. Even if the case doesn’t go to trial, a case may be challenging enough for claimants to the point where they may need the help of an experienced lawyer.
Typically, if injury victims are unable to work for multiple days, sustain a fracture or broken bone, and medical bills are worth thousands of dollars, they should consider consulting a reputable personal injury lawyer.
By conducting research into local attorneys, individuals will be able to find the right attorney to consult with, and who may be able to provide representation during the claims or trial process.
Investigations into Claims and Medical Records
When a lawyer begins representing their client, they will ask the plaintiff about every aspect of their case. Attorneys want to gain as much information as they can to better determine how to approach the claim or lawsuit. They’ll ask about everything from the accident and injuries to the treatment and ability to return to work.
After this initial interview, attorneys can begin gathering evidence in the form of medical bills and records. In addition, they may seek medical records for all treatment for the condition involved in the personal injury case. This process alone can take as long as months to complete.
The Attorney Begins Negotiations
In many cases, a personal injury case settles before it ever goes to trial. Before taking a case to trial, an attorney will likely attempt to begin negotiating with the defending party’s insurance company to discuss a settlement. Specifically, the attorney will begin making demands based on how much compensation they believe the plaintiff should recover.
At the same time, attorneys generally don’t make demands until plaintiffs have achieved the status of maximum medical improvement (MMI). At this point, the plaintiff will have recovered as much as they can and won’t receive any further medical treatment. Once plaintiffs reach MMI, the attorney can then determine more precisely how much the case is worth. The attorney may also be able to take the case to trial.
The Case Goes to Trial
If an attorney is unable to settle the case out of court, the personal injury claim will turn into a lawsuit. This will entail filing a lawsuit in court to begin the litigation process. While this means that the case will eventually go to trial, it can still take time before the trial actually begins.
Pretrial procedures vary depending on the state where the case takes place, but it normally takes between one to two years before the trial begins.
Attorneys Begin the Discovery Phase
During the pretrial period, attorneys on both sides will attempt to learn as much as they can about the other side’s arguments and defenses. This involves transferring documentation and asking questions. It also involves recording statements from all witnesses and the parties directly involved in the case.
Depositions during this process usually start with both the plaintiff and defendant.
The discovery stage of the legal process can take months, or it may take as long as a year in some cases.
Following the discovery phase, attorneys will begin discussions around the final settlement. While lawyers may negotiate with each other, they may enlist the help of a mediator. This mediator would be a third party that doesn’t take either side in the case and communicates the demands and requests of both sides.
Taking the Case to Trial
If negotiations fail, the final step in the personal injury lawsuit process will be to take the case to trial. The trial process can last days, weeks, or months, depending on the nature of the case and the complexities involved.
Even if the courts assign a specific court date for a trial, the trial may not actually take place on this date. Trial dates often change due to the changing schedule of judges. Also, plaintiffs should keep in mind that the trial process may be longer if court dates only last for a half-day.
Reaching a Verdict
Once the trial process has finished, the jury will reach a verdict and the judge will decide whether to award compensation based on this verdict. The injury victim may then be able to recover this award in the form of a settlement, often in a lump sum.
It’s important to understand that a portion of this settlement will go toward certain costs. The first cost to consider is legal fees to the attorney. A good attorney will only charge clients on a contingency basis, which means they’ll only require payment if they reach a successful outcome. The attorney would then collect their fees through a certain amount of the final settlement, but plaintiffs should know how much to expect to pay before receiving their settlement.
In addition to attorney costs, plaintiffs may need to reimburse medical professionals for treatment received, along with other expenses on payment plans. This will be particularly critical if insurance policies were unable to cover the costs of treatment and other services related to the case.
The Importance of Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
To maximize the chances of success in a personal injury lawsuit in Chicago, it’s often in plaintiffs’ best interests to hire a Chicago personal injury lawyer to represent them throughout the process. With so many potential elements involved, inexperienced injury victims may not be able to secure a successful outcome on their own, especially if a case winds up going to trial.
Instead of attempting to navigate the claims or lawsuit process alone, injury victims should speak with a reputable attorney to discuss their case and better determine what options are available to them. Even if an attorney decides not to take on a case, they may be able to provide certain advice or even refer the individual to another attorney for further discussion.
While there’s no set amount of time that a personal injury lawsuit takes to settle, an attorney can help figure out how long the case is likely to take based on the many factors involved.