This is a frequently asked question in my practice. It’s probably no surprise that the answer is, “it depends.” The main factor affecting the duration of a personal injury case is the length of medical treatment. Some people heal quickly, while others heal more slowly. Also different injuries obviously take more time and more treatment than others.
The reason why the length of treatment affects the duration of the case is that it is not wise to try to settle the case before the full extent of the damage is known. Until one is out of the woods so to speak with regards to their injury, i.e., they have made a complete recovery or gotten to the point where the doctor says they have recovered as much as they are going to recover, settlement usually is premature. For example, let’s take someone with back pain who accepts a settlement offer while they are still in pain and still undergoing treatment. Then let’s say after accepting the settlement the doctor decides to send that person to get an MRI because the doctor feels like there may be a more serious issue. Imagine if that MRI came back and the doctor then recommends surgery! That person is going to wish they hadn’t settled early because the surgery now will not be covered by the other party because the case has already been settled. What a shame!
In addition to treatment another factor that affects case duration or time to settlement is the responsiveness of the insurance adjuster. I’ve had cases that were ready for settlement, where I submitted the demand package on behalf of a client and made phone call after phone call to the defendant’s insurance adjuster, but the adjuster was just slow to respond. This slow communication style on the other side of a case can cause months of delay. Then there are those cases where negotiations break down because the adjuster is significantly undervaluing the case and making low ball offers. Often when this is the case the way to go is to file a lawsuit and commence litigation. While this can often result in getting a better settlement it comes with costs. A big part of the cost is simply time. Litigation eats up time like I eat red vines at the movies. It can easily stretch out over a year, and that’s if it settles. If the case ends up going to trial because a settlement can’t be reached, better get comfortable; it’s gonna be a while.
While the above factors are not the only ones that affect time to settlement, they are some of the main factors. The bottom line is that each case is unique with many variables. The good lawyer will do everything he or she can to expedite settlement and not create undue delay, but the good lawyer also recognizes that it is important to get the best settlement possible for the client rather than take shortcuts that lead to the client getting short-changed.