Of all the questions I hear in my office from new clients who are unsure about the personal injury claim process, the question I hear the most is: how long is my claim going to take to settle. I can not speak for every personal injury law firm, but since this is such a frequently asked question, I will answer as to how my firm handles claims.
The single most important determining factor as to the length of your claim is whether the case settles prior to litigation or not. Settlement prior to litigation is NOT always the best option. Many personal injury law firms like to brag about their settlement percentage. I assure you not to be fooled by this statistic or this advertising tactic. ANY LAWYER OR LAW FIRM CAN SETTLE YOUR CASE IF THEY ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT WHATEVER LOW OFFER THE INSURANCE COMPANY MAKES. In fact, many of the law firms that highlight their rate of pre-litigation settlement are probably accepting far less than the case is worth.
The Settlement Process
Settlement is not always a bad thing. In fact, for the majority of cases it is the best decision for all of the involved parties. Settlement is quicker, less costly, and if well negotiated by your personal injury attorney, should result in a settlement amount for full value of your case.
But the point of this post is to discuss how long the process takes. This is how the process works at my office if we can settle prior to litigation. Following the injury there is likely to be a course of treatment with medical providers. If you sustain whiplash following a rear-end auto accident you may be required to see a chiropractor. If you break your arm in a slip and fall you will likely see an orthopedist for several months and undergo a course of physical therapy. More serious injuries may require surgery and lengthy follow-up... and so on. During your medical treatment, my office will contact you every 3-4 weeks to see how you are feeling and to make sure that we are aware of all the medical providers that you are seeing. We will also see if you have been able to work, or return to work following an absence.
Regardless of what doctors you see or how long it takes, we will continue in this fashion until you are done with treatment. If the doctors have done everything they can for you and you are still in pain, our office will likely request a letter from your doctor to discuss your future prognosis. Once completed with all of your medical treatment, we will compile all of your most up to date medical records. At this point, I will write a detailed demand letter for the insurance company in which we make our case for damages and demand a specific sum of money for compensation.
My office promises to send out your demand letter within one week of receiving all of your final medical records. This guarantees that there is no unnecessary delay in attempting to resolve your case. No other firm that I know of promises to work so quickly on your behalf. Once the demand letter is received by the insurance company, it generally takes 3-5 weeks for them to make an initial offer (depending on the insurance company.) We will then begin aggressive negotiations to try and resolve the case for full value. When a fair dollar figure has been achieved, the client can consider settlement. If settled, the case will be closed and the check received in 7-10 days.
The Litigation Process
Many cases, however, do not settle in the manner described above. There can be a lot of reasons for this. For one, the insurance company might make too low an offer to be fair. Second, the insurance company might believe that you are partially at fault for the accident, and therefore, not entitled to full value. Also, some cases are just too serious or complex to easily settle. For instance, if I have a client who is very seriously injured I will often suggest filing a lawsuit right at the beginning because there is little chance of getting full value for very serious injuries in a settlement. For all these reasons, your case might wind up in litigation.
Litigation, especially in Rhode Island, can be a long process and I would not guarantee my clients that they will see any money for at least a year or two. Once the case is in litigation, we can still attempt to resolve the matter through arbitration or mediation which will be quicker than going all the way to a jury trial. Even if you file litigation, the case will often settle (eventually) and hopefully for much more money than offered before we filed suit. Just because you file a lawsuit does not necessarily mean that you will one day go to a jury trial. In fact, only a small percentage of filed lawsuits actually go to trial.
So, to make a long story short - my office promises to make every effort to attempt a settlement of your case quickly. Frequently within just a few months of the accident. If we are unable to settle or if it is inappropriate to settle prior to litigation, we will aggressively pursue your lawsuit to try and achieve an appropriate resolution as quickly as possible.
If you have any questions about the personal injury claims process, particularly regarding the length of time prior to settlement, contact our office for a free consultation. If you are currently represented and feel that your case is taking way too long, you can also call for a free consultation. If I believe, that I can assist you in resolving your case, we can discuss a possible transfer.