TIME FACTORS OF THE PERSONAL INJURY CASE
Your personal injury lawyer should fully explain why your case is taking so long. There are many legitimate reasons why a personal injury case takes as long as it does, but if your attorney cannot explain why your case is still pending, you may want to consider switching attorneys. Some law firms sign more cases than they can handle, and your case may be in an overlooked filing cabinet, feel free to ask for an update.
Here are the factors that will affect the length of a personal injury case:
- Insurance coverage
- Treatment duration
- Insurance Company Policies
- Quality of Medical Reports
- Injury severity
- Case Type
The minimum policy limits for auto liability insurance coverage in New York are 25/50. This means that the most that can be paid is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident. So if you were seriously injured, the only person injured in the accident and it was clearly the other car’s fault, your case can be resolved very quickly. The insurance company will likely “offer” your policy to you, which means it will pay in full for your policy. Given the circumstances, it would be “bad faith” if they did not. Unfortunately, even though your case is settled quickly, you won’t be able to get a lot of money.
Let’s say you had the same serious injuries and good liability, but the other vehicle was a truck with $1,000,000 coverage. This is where you don’t want to rush. Sure, you COULD solve this case quickly, but that wouldn’t be the best way to handle it. With only $25,000 to collect, the case can be settled before treatment is complete, but with more money to collect, there would be no point in even trying to settle the case before treatment is complete, since medical treatment is “damages and damages”. “which increase the value of your case. This is where we want to wait for a good settlement and litigate if one is not offered. This is going to make the case take a lot longer, but it’s worth it.
More serious injuries usually mean longer treatment. Clients sometimes ask why their case is not resolved when they are actively receiving medical treatment or are still unable to work. It is not possible to know the value of the case until treatment is complete, and trying to settle a case at that point would be selling it short. For example, if your injuries put you out of work for a year and a half, your case may not be resolved for at least a year and a half (assuming extensive insurance coverage). On the other hand, a case with minor injuries that require little treatment may settle sooner, but will not yield as high a settlement. The important thing to ask a lawyer is why the case is taking as long as it is taking; You have to make sure that you are not just sitting in the filing cabinet because they are too busy with other cases.
INSURANCE COMPANY POLICIES
Some insurance companies have a policy of wanting to settle fairly quickly. They have a team of claims representatives who follow up on their cases and answer calls from attorneys. You can send them a medical package which they will review in a timely manner and then make you an offer in a reasonable amount of time. If the offer is not acceptable, a lawsuit may be filed. In fact, there are companies this good: one of the best has some funny animal commercials.
Other insurance companies do not want to settle. They are short on claims reps and don’t bother to return calls. They ask for 60 days to review medical records. They make lousy offers to solve cases. Lawyers know what companies they are and know that it will take a long litigation. Some attorneys won’t even take cases if they know they are with certain insurance companies! If your case takes a long time because you are against an insurance company that does not actively settle cases, it is not your lawyer’s fault. It doesn’t matter if your Aunt Jean made a lot of money very quickly with a case against a “good” insurance company.
LIABILITY AND YOUR PERSONAL INJURY CASE
If you have a police report that says you were rear-ended by a texting drunk driver, there is probably no dispute over liability. This speeds up the case since the only dispute is “damages”. On the other hand, if the other guy went through a light, but claims that you went through the light, it might be necessary to litigate the case through depositions before you can settle it. This is frustrating when you saw the other guy go through the light, but that’s what courts and judges are for. Depositions cannot be made until both parties have exchanged documents and after several conferences in court. This case is not going to be quick to get full value.
QUALITY OF MEDICAL REPORTS
Dealing with high-quality medical providers who know how to produce reports for accident cases is helpful for a faster settlement. Medical reports that are scribbled up and incomplete give claims adjusters little to “hang their hats” on when they ask for “authority” to put money into your claim. That is when an insurance company may want extensive litigation if they are looking for a large settlement. They will want to hear your testimony in a deposition and send it to their doctors for examination. Good quality medical reports will expedite a settlement.
SEVERITY OF INJURIES AND YOUR PERSONAL INJURY CASE
Assuming there is coverage, it will take time to arrive at a great settlement amount in a serious case. This is the type of case where prolonged litigation can improve the final settlement. You want the insurance company to know that you are willing to go to court if they don’t get enough money. While most cases eventually settle, in the case of very serious injuries, you will want to prepare the case for trial, including reaching a settlement on the eve of trial. This can take years, but it’s worth it.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF CASES TAKE DIFFERENT AMOUNTS OF TIME
Car accident cases have a “serious injury threshold” that must be met. With smaller cases, it is important that there is at least enough treatment to reach this threshold, which often means treatment for a minimum of three months. Other types of cases do not have this threshold. For example, if you fall in a supermarket and go to the doctor and have a sprained ankle that heals quickly, your case could be resolved quickly. A case of food poisoning could be quick because there is little treatment once the problem goes away. Product liability and malpractice cases will always take a long time, as experts must be hired and complicated investigations carried out.
INTANGIBLES THAT IMPACT THE DURATION OF A CASE
The insurance company denies payment for your surgery because it is not “medically necessary” and the doctor arbitrates this denial. It can take more than a year to get a decision. It is prudent to wait for the decision as surgery is a significant part of the damages in your case and having an arbitration decision that was in fact medically necessary is important to your case.
The insurance company transfers your claim to a new claims representative who must now review your entire file from scratch. This can add months to the time it takes to resolve the case. The insurance adjuster takes an extended vacation or family leave and there is no one to discuss your claim. Of course, litigation can continue, but the case cannot be resolved unless there is a claims representative to discuss it with.
There are many reasons why cases take time to resolve. The most important thing to remember is that it is your lawyer’s job to explain why YOUR case is taking the time it is taking. If you are in the dark, you do not have the right attorney. If your attorney cannot fully explain why your case is taking so long, consider changing attorneys.