My clients frequently ask me how long it will take to settle a personal injury case. While there is no straightforward or simple answer, there are five main factors that significantly affect how long it takes to resolve a claim.
- Severity of Injuries/Length of Treatment
If you are injured in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, we encourage you to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Some insurance companies are unwilling to discuss resolving your claim until you have fully recovered or reached maximum medical improvement. If the insurance company is unwilling to discuss your case until the full extent of your damages is known, it could take longer to resolve your claim.
Unfortunately, there are cases when clients do not fully recover from their injuries and their doctor has formed the opinion that the client has reached maximum medical improvement and their condition will be permanent. In those situations, an attorney will need to obtain a permanency rating from the doctor and opinions on the cost projections for future treatment that the client will need. Clients with these injuries will have a longer time period from the beginning to the end of their case.
- Liability Issue
Liability means being held responsible or accountable for something under the law. If there is a dispute in a client’s case about who is at fault, or if the insurance company believes it can make an argument that the defendant is not liable for the collision or accident, then that will increase the amount of time it takes to resolve the claim. The law in Virginia for liability is that “contributory negligence” prevents any recovery. This means if an injured person is deemed to have done something that contributed to the collision, that person is not entitled to receive any compensation for their injury. Thus, if the insurance company believes that it can dispute liability in the case, the claim may have to be litigated through the legal system to determine who is responsible. In addition, if there are potentially multiple parties who caused the collision, each party’s respective insurance company may attempt to blame others and litigation of the case may be necessary.
- Requesting Medical Bills and Records
In order for a personal injury attorney to properly evaluate a case, the attorney needs records and bills from the treating physicians. Generally, when a client hires a personal injury attorney, they will also sign a medical release form, giving the attorney and their staff permission to request the medical bills and records. Most of the time, the medical providers respond in a reasonable time period. However, in some cases, it takes multiple attempts and several weeks or months to obtain the records and bills. This can prolong an attorney’s ability to move the case forward.
- Delays by the Insurance Company
Once a case has been submitted to the insurance company, it is their turn to evaluate the claim, determine potential liability issues, or make a settlement offer. Some insurance companies process claims quickly, others take longer. Often, the insurance company will make a low offer at first to see if the client will take it. An attorney can then negotiate and try to get a better offer from the insurance company. After negotiations, if the client and attorney determine the offer from the insurance company is not sufficient to compensate the client, the recourse is to file a lawsuit.
- Liens Against the Case
Often, even after an attorney is able to settle a case in an amount the client is willing to accept for their injury, the attorney may attempt to resolve outstanding liens against the settlement. Public or private health insurance companies may claim a right to be reimbursed from the proceeds of the settlement. If that is the case, an attorney has to evaluate whether the provider has a valid lien and if the amount of the lien is correct. The attorney can then attempt to seek a reduction on the lien. Determining which liens are collectible in a case, and in what amount, takes time and can cause delay.
Although the factors outlined above are the most common, other factors can also affect how long it takes to resolve a personal injury claim. Even though most of the factors are outside of the control of a personal injury attorney and their staff, it is imperative for the attorney and the staff to keep moving the case forward and to keep the client informed along the way.