Ahh, the eternal question that injury clients always want to know: “I hurt, I feel terrible, I know I need medical treatment, but I’ve heard these cases take 5 years to resolve. I don’t want to get involved in that. Is this true?”
Everyone has heard bad stories of cases that drag on for years. While it does occasionally happen, it’s very rare for a claim to last more than one year, two at the most.
First, when someone is injured, medical care is essential to diagnose the physical problem as well as assess a treatment plan. Here in Florida, in order to make a claim for injuries as a result of a car crash, you must have a “permanent injury”. Permanency is defined by our statutes in one of three ways: (1) death (duh); (2) physical scarring; and, (3) everything else.
Most clients fall under the “everything else” umbrella. That can be everything from a soft tissue injury (previously called “whiplash”) to a disc herniation, to neck or back or joint surgery. Doctors generally rely on a treatise called “The A.M.A. Guide To The Evaluation Of Permanent Impairment” to assess a permanent injury. The Guides suggest that six months is the minimum amount of time it might take a physician to get his patient to what is called “maximum medical improvement.”
As written, six month is just a guideline. Some patients must treat for longer than six months if their recuperation is complicated or if they’ve had surgery. But, when a patient is as good as he or she is going to get, that’s when your attorney can get to work.
Armed with your physicians’ final reports, an injury lawyer will then put together your injury claim in something called a “demand letter” and send it to the insurance company for the at-fault driver to try to resolve your case through negotiations.
In my experience more than half my clients’ injury claims settle without having to file suit. This is because in a car crash case there isn’t much to argue over – usually the one who caused the crash received a ticket, the damage to the car evidences causation of an injury, there is treatment and diagnosis of the patient. The only real difference injury lawyers have with insurance adjusters in car crash cases is…….valuation. In other words, how much is the case worth?
Once we discuss, persuade (maybe argue a bit) and cajole with the insurance company adjuster we’re often able to negotiate a settlement for our client that is hopefully more than what the insurance adjuster wanted to pay and not too much less than our client’s expectations.
The entire process from collision, to treatment, to demand and then settlement can usually take around one year, plus or minus a few months.
On the other 40-45% of my injury claims that do not settle through negotiations, a lawsuit must be filed. Typically, even claims that are filed in court resolve somewhere along the way, after a process called “mediation” which is mandatory to attend before getting to a jury trial. If it doesn’t settle at mediation and your case must be heard by a jury, that might extend the process out to about a total of two years.
So! In sum: To answer the initial question. If your case settles without the filing a lawsuit, you can expect the process to take about one year. If a lawsuit is filed it may add an additional year to the process for a total of two years.
When you hear stories of cases that take 5 or even10 years to resolve, be very suspicious. They do happen, but there is usually a very unusual story attached that hopefully will not be your story.
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