Clients who suffer injuries in a car wreck often turn to lawyers to settle their claims, hoping that this will make the negotiation process faster and more efficient. So why do these cases seem to take so long to resolve? We'll try to answer that question by giving you an overview of the legal process in a traditional personal injury legal claim. For more details about this process, or for a free consultation to discuss your case, contact Attorney Alex Davis.
Auto wreck cases are usually among the quickest and most straight forward types of legal claims. Compared to a contract dispute between two businesses, or a product liability case involving a giant corporation, the parties in a car wreck dispute are typically easy to find and limited in number. You have two drivers, maybe a passenger or two, and the insurance companies. My first step in managing an automobile case is identifying these parties, and sending a "letter of representation" to the insurance adjuster to let the adjuster know that he or she should not contact my client directly, and should preserve all evidence from the scene.
The next step is gathering my own evidence, including the police report, photographs, statements from witnesses, and medical records. In Kentucky, a hospital or doctor has 30 days to produce medical records and expenses, but the process often takes longer. You also need to make sure the client is finishing treating with his or her doctors. If the injury requires more care, it does not make sense to accept a final amount of money from the other driver's insurance carrier.
Although every case is different, it usually takes at least 60 days before it is clear that the injured party has reached "maximum medical improvement" following the wreck. It may take another 30 days for the medical records and expenses to arrive. If the insurance company is willing to negotiate a fair settlement for the client's pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses and other damages, I make sure to send a detailed package of information to the carrier laying out part of my legal strategy and adding up the damages. This is one of many stages in the case where a lawyer's background is especially helpful. The information sent to the carrier, often called a "demand package," usually triggers a response from the insurance adjuster after two or three weeks of time. (This assumes that there are no issues with PIP, medical expense subrogation, or lawsuit lenders, which can easily add weeks or months to the timeline.)
It's common for the negotiation process with an insurance company to take another month or so. Additional documents or proof might be needed, and the parties usually bargain over numbers and other issues during this phase. If an agreement is reached at this point -- roughly five months after the date of injury -- you will receive a settlement check and go on your merry way. However, expect additional time if you need medical treatment for more than one month, if there is UIM coverage involved, if there are additional parties in the case (such as other passengers or vehicles), or if the insurance adjuster is difficult to reach. Again, every case is different.
In many instances, a fair settlement cannot be reached between the injured party and the insurance company for the negligent driver. In this case, it often makes sense to file a lawsuit in state or federal court. A lawsuit essentially starts the entire process all over again, because pre-litigation negotiations with an insurance company are usually conducted under an agreement that any information exchanged between the parties will not be used as evidence in court.
After the suit is filed, it is not uncommon for the case to require at least six months to resolve, and often much longer. After the defendant's lawyer (usually hired by the insurance company) responds to the complaint, both sides conduct "discovery" in which they exchange information about how the injury happened, the resulting damages, who is liable, and other matters. Key parties are usually involved in depositions during this phase, after which point the case could be resolved in mediation before a third-party mediator.
We are now roughly one year from the date of injury. If mediation does not work at this point, trial preparation will continue, with exhibits, expert witnesses, and preparation for opening and closing statements, direct and cross examination, jury selection, and other matters. However, even if you are ready for trial, that does not mean the other side will be ready. It also does not mean the court is ready. Oftentimes, a request for a trial date in Kentucky or Indiana will result in a date that is five to eight months down the road.
We're now looking at roughly two years from the date of injury. Will your case take this long? It just depends on how the above factors play out. It also depends on how aggressively your own lawyer moves the case forward at each of these stages. A delay of even a week or two at each of these stages could stretch out the total timeline by many months. To learn more about how an aggressive lawyer will seek compensation for your personal injury auto wreck case, contact Attorney Alex Davis at Jones Ward PLC.