Author: Kathleen M. Smith, Fredericksburg, VA Personal Injury Attorney
The single most common question asked by new clients who have been recently injured in a motor vehicle collision is: “How long will it take to resolve my claim?” This is understandable. In the aftermath of an accident, many injured people amass significant medical costs, endure tremendous pain and miss time from their jobs. No one plans for an accident. The unexpected inconveniences of an injury are both frustrating and emotionally taxing. I understand that my clients want to resolve their personal injury claims and resolve their cases as soon as possible. Unfortunately, as each case is unique it is impossible to answer this question definitively at the outset. Thankfully, there are some factors that, when considered, can provide an approximation to this pressing concern.
I always tell my clients that it is imprudent to submit a personal injury claim to the defendant’s insurance company while they are still undergoing active treatment for their injuries. Before the case can be submitted we have to know what related treatment you received, how much that treatment cost and how long it took for you to heal. At least initially, we have to wait for you to return to your pre-accident state of health or, in the case of permanent injury, exhaust all reasonable and medically necessary treatment to arrive at a point of ‘maximum medical improvement.’ For some people this may take a week; for others it may take years.
Once the medical treatment is over, the bills and records are collected and the claim is formally submitted to the insurance company, it generally takes between 30 and 45 days for the adjuster assigned to the claim to review the documentation and generate an initial offer. This is the point where negotiations begin. Depending on a variety of issues, including your prior medical history, the negotiation process may or may not go quickly. In the end, you will be presented with a ‘best and final’ settlement offer. The question at that point is, “do you believe that it is full and fair in light of your individual circumstances?”
Should you decide to accept the offer and settle your claim, the funds can often be disbursed relatively quickly thereafter. Should the offer be rejected, the only remaining option is to file a lawsuit against the defendant and proceed with litigation. In Virginia the litigation process involves the exchange of records, written questions called interrogatories, depositions taken under oath and the designation of experts. While time consuming, going through the litigation process may be the best option for you.
While cases may and often do settle in the course of the litigation process, some cases proceed all the way to trial. The court’s availability and the schedules of essential witnesses determine when these trials will be held. Depending on the jurisdiction where the law suit is filed and the number of witnesses in the case the trial may be set sometime in the following year. Thankfully, for most cases, the trial date provides some measure of assurance for ultimate resolution.
In the end, it is far more important that your claim be handled correctly than quickly. While final resolution and full and fair compensation is always the overriding objective, every Virginia personal injury claim is unique and follows its own path. Understanding from the outset that handling your claim the right way and not the fast way is the best way to maximize your ultimate recovery may ease some frustration as the process unfolds.
About The Author: Kathleen is an attorney with the Allen Law Firm whose practice is focused specifically on personal injury cases. She has a wealth of courtroom experience which provides her with a competitive advantage when representing her clients. In addition to defending the rights of people who have been victims of someone else's negligence, Kathleen also serves as an adjunct professor at Strayer University.