As an attorney practicing personal injury law in both Suffolk and Nassau Counties of New York for almost two decades, I hear this question all too much:
There’s never a simple answer. Not all cases are the same. While some cases may be resolved fairly quickly, others can take years. There are numerous reasons why.
Firstly, a case should not be settled until the injured person has recovered from their accident. If the person is still in treatment for the injuries sustained in the accident, then the case should remain open so that all medical documentation can be considered before the case is resolved. The reason this is important is that pain and suffering and mental anguish as a result of an injury is a key component in determining how much money a person is entitled to in their case.
Settling before a person is physically better is risky because healing from an injury can be unpredictable. There can be setbacks, complications or even unexpected surgeries. If a case is settled all these pains, physical or emotional, from the injury, are documented, the plaintiff is likely going to be short-changed with respect to the amount of money they actually need for their pain, suffering and mental anguish.
Now, in some cases, a person will never fully recover. In those situations it’s important to wait until the person reaches their maximum medical recovery. An expert is often hired to determine the degree of future pain and suffering, future costs of medical treatment and future lost wages when an injury is permanent. It is always a good idea for a plaintiff’s attorney to use this time wisely by building the case. Accident investigation, gathering of witness statements and consultation with experts should coincide with the recovery of the injured party. This will minimize any delay on the plaintiff’s part of the case.
However, the defense also plays a key role in the resolution of any case. The defendant’s unwillingness to discuss settlement of a case may also result in significant delay. There can be two reasons for this. First, there may be a genuine dispute in the case. For example, in a car accident, the defendant may believe it was not their fault and that the injured party was responsible for the accident. Second, if there is not a legitimate defense such as fault, the defendant may be using the legal process to delay resolution. For example, if an injury is significant and the insurance company involved knows that there will be a large settlement, they will often delay the resolution of the case with needless litigation in hopes that the injured party will be forced to settle the case quickly for less. In some cases, the injured party is unable to work and may have a great deal of financial pressure, and settlement may be necessary to avoid financial ruin.
When an insurance company delays settlement, the result is often “protracted litigation”. This means that a case will have to make its way through the court system, possibly all the way to a trial date. This is often costly and time consuming. However, a skilled attorney can reduce the amount of delay with aggressive litigation tactics such as a motion for summary judgment and/or a motion for a protective order halting endless discovery demands from defense counsel.
There are nonetheless, several stages of litigation that must occur before a case can be tried. First, a lawsuit must be initiated with a summons and complaint. This can take several weeks to several months. Next, “discovery” must occur. Discovery is the exchange of information regarding the case between parties. This is required in all personal injury cases. Discovery often includes providing medical records, performing depositions and a having a physical examination of the plaintiff. Discovery can take several months, sometimes years in complex cases where there are complicated issues of law and/or multiple defendants.
Next, the case is scheduled for trial. Waiting for a trial can also take several months since the court system is usually backed up due to the large amount of cases. Scheduling a trial can also be tricky when there are a large amount of witnesses to be coordinated. Finally there is a trial.
From the plaintiff’s perspective, it’s best to let the case run its course without any unnecessary time constraints or pressure (if possible). Remember, it’s always our attorney’s goal to obtain the most amount of money for our clients in the least amount of time. But the most effective way to ensure that an attorney obtains the optimum result for their client is patience.
Palermo Tuohy Bruno, P.L.L.C., is a firm devoted to taking stress out of the equation. We do well by our clients by dealing with all necessary legal paperwork and insurance forms in order to get them the compensation they deserve so they can focus on their recovery.