Personal Injury Lawyers answer the question "How long will my case take ?"
One of the most common questions clients ask a personal injury lawyer is “How long will my case take?” Clients ask this before they sign a retainer, they ask this in status calls during the pendency of the litigation, and they ask variations of the same question once their case is already settled (how long will it be until I receive my check?). The answer to this question depends on a multitude of factors many of which are outside of anyone’s control.
The amount of time a personal injury case will take depends on:
1) The severity of the injuries. Very serious injuries lend themselves to higher monetary awards since the damages award is meant to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries. Insurance carriers are in business to save money and pay out as little as possible. Therefore, the more serious an injury a plaintiff has usually translates to prolonged legal battles. On the other hand, relatively minor injuries can be resolved without filing a lawsuit in the claims process.
2) The defense law firm & the bodily injury insurance carrier. When presented with an injury matter, the handling attorney will file a claim with the insurance company. Different carriers approach cases in different ways. Some carriers have a reputation for not paying fair value and sleeping through the litigation only to wake up when they get sent out to pick a jury. Yet other insurance carriers are known for fighting tooth and nail on every minutiae and continuing to fight during trial. Most carriers are middle of the road and reasonable but usually to obtain significant compensation, the plaintiff’s injury attorney has to at least get past depositions of all parties. This allows the carrier to assess the client, liability, and damages. A lot also depends on the defense law firm hired by the insurance carrier to defend the case.
Lawyers like billable hours so they can make more money which is understandable but delays the case. In this sense, sometimes the insurance carrier that hired the law firm has different interests with the very law firm it hired. The juxtaposition of increasing billable hours for the firm versus spending as little as possible and extinguishing the claim for the carrier. Some law firms take a more hands off approach which usually allows a plaintiff’s accident lawyer to prosecute his or her case quicker. Some firms are heavy into motion practice which can delay a case especially if those motions are followed by appeals.
3) The court & venue. Various courthouses in New York City have different timelines for their cases. Prior to filing a Note of Issue and certifying the case as trial ready, most courthouses are roughly similar. Upon receipt of an answer to a plaintiff’s complaint, it takes several weeks for a preliminary conference to be scheduled. At the PC conference, dates are chosen for depositions, document discovery exchanges, defense medical exams, and other litigation milestones. After a case is placed upon the court’s trial calendar, the wait again varies depending on the county.
In Brooklyn & Queens for example, the court issues standard and goals deadlines by which the court expects the case to be resolved. In these counties, the courts strictly follow the Standard & Goals date so attorneys can use that as a benchmark to know when the case will proceed to trial. In other counties such as in the Bronx due to a heavy backlog of cases, trial ready matters often go well past the standard & goals date.
4) The plaintiff’s law firm. Responding timely to discovery demands, being ready to proceed with depositions, filing and opposing motions timely, and filing a Note of Issue are all the responsibility of the plaintiff’s attorney. Failing to provide even one authorization for a medical provider may in turn cause the defense lawyer to refuse to depose plaintiff which can delay a case for months on end.
Filing a motion to compel discovery can delay a case significantly as well. It is often best to work out discovery issues to streamline this process to avoid needless delay.
5) The plaintiff. Yes, the client often determines how long a case will take. Some clients stay in contact with their attorneys and respond to requests for information promptly. Other clients are busy or with the passage of time lose interest in their case refusing to show up for IME appointments or depositions. This will inordinately delay a case. Yet other clients move out of State making it cost prohibitive to fly back to New York for depositions or trial. Sometimes life happens and a client get a job offer in another state or country, gets imprisoned, or passes away. In another sense, the client controls the time and outcome of their own case by choosing to cooperate with the litigation process.
If a client does not see a specialist even though his primary treating doctor referred him to one, that will hurt the case and may delay outcome. Clients call and ask “What are you doing to on my case?” to which an attorney can counter “What are you doing to help your case?”. If you are injured, are you following up with your doctor ? Having medical records to support a damages claim is vital.
6) Settlement. At any stage of the litigation, the parties can discuss settlement which will quickly resolve the case for an agreed monetary value. Mediations and arbitrations are also a popular alternative to litigation. Usually the parties discuss settlement after depositions have been held and after the Note of Issue has been filed but in smaller cases settlement can be discussed earlier as well. Many smaller matters are settled as claims before even filing suit.
The above are just some of the factors influencing how long a personal injury matter may take. There are factors which an attorney and client can control as well as those outside of our control. For more information about how long your case will take, speak to your lawyer. Our firm is available for consultations at firstname.lastname@example.org, (866) ATTY LAW, or locally at (212) 222-1111.