July 27, 2021 Posted In Personal Injury
One of the most common questions when pursuing a personal injury case in California is how long it will take to settle. The answer is unique to each case and its specific circumstances. Still, claims do follow a predictable process that can give you a general idea of when you can expect to receive compensation.
The first six months of a personal injury case will typically be dedicated to your recovery and an initial investigation.
Seeking medical care is the top priority after a serious accident. Not only is it critical for your health, but also when it comes time to file your claim. An insurance company may see any delay in medical treatment as a sign that your injuries aren’t severe or were not caused by your accident. An attorney will also advise you to wait until you fully recover or reach maximum medical improvement (MMI) before sending your demand letter to an insurance company. That way, you have a complete picture of the extent of your injuries and any future implications.
Once you hire a personal injury attorney, they will conduct an independent investigation to gather evidence and build your case. That will involve visiting the scene of the accident, taking photos, collecting physical evidence, obtaining police reports, interviewing witnesses, reviewing medical records, pay stubs, receipts for accident-related expenses, hiring experts, and more. The amount of time this process takes depends on how complicated your case is.
Once your attorney understands the extent of your injuries and your current and future financial losses, they will draft a demand letter and send it to the at-fault party’s insurance company. The letter will detail the accident facts and ask to resolve the case by sending a specific amount of compensation by a certain date. The insurer will typically respond with a counter-offer, and negotiations will begin. If both parties can agree on a settlement amount, the case will resolve. If not, you and your attorney may choose to file a lawsuit.
Under California’s statute of limitations, you typically have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Once your attorney files the appropriate paperwork with the courts, the documents must be served on the defendant (at-fault party) within 30 to 60 days. The defendant then has 30 additional days to respond and deny the allegations. Approximately 60 days after filing suit, both parties will send interrogatories (written questions) to the other for further investigation and clarify the case’s facts. Interrogatories must typically be answered within 35 days, but this phase can take several months.
The discovery phase will take up a large portion of the first year of your lawsuit, which commonly involves:
Attorneys for both parties depose each other’s victims and witnesses, which can take an average of three months.
The defense may require you to be examined by a doctor of their choosing. These doctors are working for the defense and may attempt to look for ways to discredit your injuries or how they were caused. Your attorney will prepare you for this exam and can be present.
If your case has not settled at this point, around the 16th or 17th month, then both parties will typically hire expert witnesses to support their side in trial. Each side must disclose who their expert witnesses are, the subject of their testimony, and must have an opportunity to conduct additional depositions. This process can take up to six months.
After this phase, each party is aware of the strength of evidence involved in the case and the likely trial outcome.
The remaining time will involve further negotiations and eventually trial.
The court will typically order a settlement conference conducted by a mediator. The mediator will attempt to help the parties resolve the case through negotiations. More than 95 percent of civil cases settle before going to trial.
If mediation fails, your case will go to trial, which typically takes between four days to two weeks. Complex cases, however, can take as long as two months.
Any financial recovery is typically dispersed to a victim within 30 days of successful mediation or a favorable verdict.