Personal injury victims are understandably concerned about the processing of a legal claim against the person or entity responsible for their injuries and related expenses. Medical bills may begin to accrue immediately following an accident or the manifestation of symptoms or health-related issues. Lost job wages can severely impact the well-being of a family or individual. Personal morale often begins to flag, and patience can wear out over a matter of time.
However, many factors play a role in the processing time of a legal case. In some cases, symptoms related to the negligence of someone else may not appear until several months afterward. Or, if they appear, medical professionals might not immediately connect the symptoms to a personal injury accident. For example, if an accident victim begins to experience depression or mood swings a few months after an accident, the treating doctor or therapist will likely need to explore root causes. Several consultations may be needed, along with testing, before a mental health expert can determine a diagnosis that reveals the accident is the source of the emotional changes in a person.
Other injuries are more immediate, and filing a legal claim can start the process by which compensation through insurance coverage or other means can be yielded to the victim. Due to the prevailing statute of limitations, a legal claim, or lawsuit, must be filed within a specific timeframe, for example, two years. That is why it is important for personal injury victims to be medically evaluated following an accident so that an accurate and thorough diagnosis can be made, treatment can be ordered, and results can be measured. All of this information will be necessary for a personal injury claim to be filed and supported.
Soon after filing a claim, the discovery phase begins. Depending on the complexity of the case and the nature of the injuries, this phase can last a year or more during which attorneys for both plaintiff and victim seek relevant information, including witnesses, experts, and documents, to evaluate the claim. New information may continue to impact the discovery findings. For example, six months following an accident, a victim may complete the prescribed physical therapy treatment and learn that a preexisting but unknown bone fracture complicated the healing process. This finding may have a bearing on the claim that has been filed. In some cases, the prior fracture will simply be ignored as insignificant. Other times, it may be used by the defense attorney to suggest that the personal injury victim’s pain and suffering, along with the healing timeline, may be due in part to the previous bone fracture. Still another perspective is that the bone fracture would not have presented problems if not for the accident. Much will depend on the medical assessments made by health care professionals.
During and following the discovery phase, offers to settle the case may be extended by either the plaintiff or defendant. If it appears the injuries of the victim will be difficult to link to the negligence of the defendant, the plaintiff’s attorney may be more open to settlement offers rather than face a long and costly litigation process in the courtroom, with no guarantee of a winning outcome. On the other hand, the defense attorney may present settlement offers if it appears the case appears to be a slam-dunk win for the plaintiff. Sometimes both attorneys will make reasonable settlement offers to close the case if it seems clear-cut based on medical evidence.
After medical documentation has been collected and all evidence for both parties has been evaluated, the court may schedule a settlement conference that will take place at the courthouse. This is often an informal process by which plaintiff with an attorney and defendant’s attorney or insurance representative negotiate from separate rooms through the efforts of a negotiator, typically a court-appointed arbiter or mediator. Sometimes injury-related exhibits are presented that provide a brief visual overview of the accident, resulting injuries, or associated losses. Settlement efforts can take an hour or two, or all day. An agreement may or may not be reached. If parties agree, the actual settlement procedure can take several weeks for accident-related medical bills to be paid, attorney fees to be covered, and any residual amounts for lost wages or pain and suffering to be issued to the plaintiff. If settlement is not reached, the case will be scheduled for courtroom trial. However, settlement offers may continue to be made up through and even during the early part of the trial.
Because these events are individualized in each case, it is impossible to establish a timeline of events or predict a settlement outcome. Working with experienced personal injury lawyers helps to ensure that the process will be handled efficiently and in the client’s best interests. Clients and attorneys alike try to cut costs and save time whenever possible.