“How long will my car accident case take to resolve?” is a question we hear frequently in our office. The legal system is not predictable, so there is no exact answer. But there are some basic principles which, if you understand, will help determine how long the case will take. For this blog, we’re only addressing car accident cases where there has been an injury.
Phase 1: Treatment
The treatment phase begins at the time of the car accident. If you were in a rear-ender on January 5, then that’s the day you should use to begin to calculate the start date for the treatment phase. In many instances an injured person receives medical treatment at a hospital very soon after the collision. Treatment may last weeks, months, or even longer in serious cases. If the injury involved only sprains, the medical treatment might be 120 to 180 days. If the injury involved surgery, the medical treatment might be 12 to 18 months. The treatment phase ends either when (i) the injury has fully resolved, or (ii) the injury has not fully resolved, but the patient has a permanent injury for which the doctor can predict with some accuracy what the future will hold in terms of medical care. Keep in mind that in some rare instances the treatment phase will go on indefinitely, in which case the personal injury lawyer and you will make some important decisions about how best to move your case towards resolution.
Phase 2: Compiling of Records
Once the injured victim has finished the treatment identified in Phase 1, it’s time for the lawyer to get all of the records. This means writing to the hospitals and doctors to collect the notes of the doctors, nurses, and therapists. This also means getting all of the medical bills. Lost wage documentation will be obtained where the injured victim missed work as a result of the car collision. The lawyer takes the records, bills, and other supporting documentation, and creates a settlement package to forward to the defendant or insurance company. Phase 2 typically lasts 1-3 months, but this, of course, may vary depending on the severity of the injury and the complexity of the case.
Phase 3: Initial Settlement
Upon receipt of the documentation, the defendant or insurance company will review the case for possible settlement. Where there is insurance, the adjuster is charged with the task of reading all the materials provided. Photographs of the scene help explain the accident. A police report might identify key witnesses. The hospital records will show the initial diagnosis. And finally, the full medical package highlights the extent of all of the injuries. Each defendant is different, but as a rule of thumb, the initial settlement phase often lasts between 1 and 3 months.
Phase 4: Litigation
Some cases settle at the initial settlement phase. Others do not. Why might a case not settle? There are many reasons. Perhaps there is a dispute over how the car accident occurred. Or, alternatively, maybe the facts of how the accident occurred are clear, but the amount of compensation offered by the defendant to settle the case is too low. Litigation is the next option when settlement is reached in Phase 3.
There are many, many different factors that come into play when it comes to the length of litigation in a car accident case. Each courthouse is different. Some courts have clear limits on the duration of litigation. There may be a strict deadline that spells out the length of time from “file” date (i.e., when the cases is filed) to “trial” date (i.e., when the case actually goes to trial in front of a judge or jury). Your personal injury lawyer will provide advice on how long Phase 4 will take in your particular injury case.
When you combine all of the phases up, here are some very rough guidelines that might apply in your case. Again, consult with your personal injury lawyer, including the lawyers at Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for a specific answer in your case. Don’t rely on this information as anything other than a general guide. These guidelines assume that liability is clear, which means that there is no dispute that the injured person will prevail on how the accident occurred. For these timelines, assume that this was a rear end car accident where the defendant admitted fault:
- For a small car accident case involving only minor soft tissue injuries, the total time from accident through resolution might take 4-6 months, assuming no litigation. If there is litigation, then resolution might take 12-18 months.
- For a large car accident with surgery, the total time from accident through resolution might take 9 – 15 months, assuming no litigation. If there is litigation, then resolution might take 18 – 24 months.
Again, keep in mind that these are very, very rough guidelines, and you should rely only on the information provided by your lawyer!