One of the questions asked by virtually every person that comes into my office to talk about injuries from a motor vehicle collision is “how long is this going to take?” Other variations on the question include “how long will it take to settle my personal injury claim?” or “it seems like the insurance company is dragging their feet, does it always take this long?”
Though it would be impossible to provide an answer that would be applicable to all cases, the answer I usually give goes something like this. (For those not interested to read below, the short answer is “it depends, but usually 6 to 14 months after you finish medical treatment, but it could be much longer if your case goes to trial).
Letters of Representation & Medical Records
First, I'm going to send letters of representation out to all of the insurance companies involved. Then, I'm going to wait. I'm going to wait until your doctors tell you that you are either back to normal, or that you are medically stationary—that is, not going to get any better because there is nothing modern medical science can do for you. How long this takes depends on your injury and your body's ability to recover from that injury.
Once you've reached that point, I'll begin the process of gathering your medical records and bills and any other documents we might need to support and prove your case. This usually takes anywhere from two to six months, though sometimes it's much sooner than that and sometimes, for reasons I'll never understand, it takes longer. But plan for two to six months.
Demand Letter to Insurance & Negotiation Stage
After your medical records and bills, all arrive, I'll review them and draft what we call a “demand letter” or a “settlement proposal” to the insurance company. I'll summarize your injury, the treatment you received, and the medical prognosis for your future. This process usually takes one to three months depending on how complicated your medical situation is and how many other pressing matters I have to deal with.
Once the demand letter is ready, we'll schedule a meeting to review it and check it for accuracy, and to fill in any blanks left by your medical records. Then we'll send the letter and give the insurance company between one and two months to respond.
Then comes the fun part—the negotiation stage. This, much like buying a car, is a back and forth between the attorney and the insurance company. Sometimes this process takes a single phone call (if the insurance company sees little value in your case and offers such a little amount that further negotiation is unlikely to be successful), other times, the process can last several weeks or even months on larger more complex cases. On average, this usually takes a month or so.
If your case settles at this point, you're done. It usually takes another one to two months to wrap up your case and get you a check.
If The Case Doesn't Settle
If your case doesn't settle, then we have to file a lawsuit and put your case into litigation. This usually doesn't take too long, a month or so.
Once in litigation, the parties will engage in “discovery.” For more about discovery, you can read here. For our purposes, this is the time where the other party gets to ask you questions and to ask you to provide them documents and other information and you get to do the same to the defendant. This process usually takes between four and six months.
If you have a smaller claim, less than $100,000 in Washington or less than $50,000 in Oregon, your case will be put into civil arbitration. An arbitrator will be assigned, and an arbitration hearing will be scheduled. This process usually takes another three to four months. Many of the cases we handle are arbitrated.
Most cases resolve the following arbitration. The arbitrator reaches a decision and the case either settles shortly after or the insurance company pays the amount ordered by the arbitrator. If this is the case, you're looking at another month or two before we'd be able to get your money to you.
Sometimes, however, the insurance company thinks that the arbitrator awarded too much and appeals the arbitrator's decision and asks the court for a jury trial. Many times the case still settles, but when it doesn't, and if your case goes all the way to a jury trial, you're usually looking at another four to five months before the case is tried.
Thus, to answer the question by way of summary:
No two cases are the same. If your questions are any more specific than this, it is best to consult with an attorney and discuss your specific situation.