Personal Injury Case Timeline
The accident or event that resulted in an injury only took a moment. But the aftermath, including medical recovery and the legal process, can go on and on. If you are involved in a personal injury case, it is helpful to understand the timeline of how the legal process will unfold.
Once the injured party has received medical treatment, he or she will hire a personal injury attorney. Note that some small claims may not require the assistance of an attorney, however claims involving substantial injuries and monetary losses are best represented by a trained and experienced lawyer.
Once the injured party has secured legal counsel, the attorney will begin a lengthy interview process to understand every aspect of the personal injury claim. He or she will examine all of the medical records, bills and police records if any exist in the case. After reviewing all of this information, the attorney will be able to determine whether or not the injured party indeed has grounds to file a lawsuit.
In many instances, there is no need for a lawsuit to be filed. Often, personal injury claims that involve relatively minor injuries or losses can be settled out of court. The plaintiff’s attorney can contact the defendant’s attorney to explore this possibility.
Maximum Medical Improvement
It is important to note that regardless of how efficient an attorney may be, a qualified attorney will not begin the process of filing a suit or attempting to settle until the plaintiff has reached MMI or the point of maximum medical improvement. Waiting until this time ensures that the attorney will know exactly how much the injury has cost the client and, therefore, the amount of damages to seek from the defendant. However, if the plaintiff needs financial assistance before reaching MMI, the attorney may begin the lawsuit at any point.
Filing a Lawsuit
In the event that the two parties are unable to settle outside of court, the plaintiff’s attorney will file a lawsuit. Doing so officially sets into motion the process of the case going to trial. Although each state has different rules and regulations governing the pretrial process, in most personal injury cases take one to two years to go to trial. Although this wait seems long, it is essential that the plaintiff’s attorney files the lawsuit within the statute of limitations as governed by the state in which the suit is to be filed. This amount of time differs from state to state.
During the discovery process, both the plaintiff and the defendant will investigate the claims that either side is making in the case. The respective attorneys will send questions or interrogatories back and forth and will also question witnesses. The duration of the discovery process can be lengthy—up to one year—depending on the circumstances of the case and any deadlines that the court may impose.
After both sides have completed the discovery process, the mediation and negotiation process may begin. First, the lawyers may attempt to negotiate an end to the case. If that does not work, mediation may be needed. In mediation, both lawyers along with the plaintiff and the defendant go before a mediator who works to help the parties settle the case.
Often, mediation is successful. When it is not, the case will be sent to trial. Depending on the complexities of the case, it can take anywhere from one day to over a week to settle in court.