When someone seriously injures you in a car crash, you’ll spend a lot of time focusing on healing. As you work your way toward maximum recovery, your thought process begins to change. You think about getting back to your normal life. You want to participate in family activities and earn an income again. It makes sense to consider your personal injury settlement.
If you have an injury claim pending, you want to know how long it will be before you see a settlement. If the liability insurer’s low settlement offer forced you to file a personal injury lawsuit, you need to know how long it will take.
Serious injuries take over your life. You endure months, and sometimes years, of treatment. You manage a deluge of medical expenses while earning low or no income. You must pay for long-term medical care, medication, and rehabilitation. If the accident totaled your car, you need to replace that too. These and other costs often leave you financially strapped and longing for a cash influx.
While PIP covers a portion of your medical expenses and wage losses, a serious injury quickly eats away the benefits. When you don’t have other health care coverage, your injuries often leave you with medical debt and economic losses. Your personal injury lawsuit should eventually produce the money you need, but no one can predict when you will settle your lawsuit or how much money you’ll receive.
A Lawsuit’s Timing is Usually out of Your Control
A lawsuit allows you to make a formal demand for damages associated with your injury. If the process works in your favor, it eventually compels the negligent driver to pay for the damages they caused. Unlike a criminal case, the state or municipality doesn’t take up your cause.
If you want to pursue your injury case in court, you must take the appropriate steps.
- Determine your legal rights
- Review the evidence to analyze negligence
- Identify the negligent parties and establish their appropriate addresses
- Compose a lawsuit that meets formal submission standards
- Determine the appropriate jurisdiction and court
- File your lawsuit before your statute of limitations passes
- Serve the defendants a copy of your suit in compliance with local procedures
- Respond to any cross-complaints
- Produce evidence to substantiate your demands
- Show up at hearings and conferences as required
- Comply with court procedures and guidelines
As you see, the litigation process isn’t simple. Working through it often takes months or years. It includes multiple steps and you must either comply or give up your legal right to recover damages. When you have a lawsuit pending, the best thing you can do is be patient and ask your personal injury attorney to explain their plan for working through the process.
Why Should You File a Lawsuit?
Lawsuits require a lot of time and effort, but sometimes you must litigate to recover your injury-related damages. Suits become even more complicated when they involve serious injuries and/or complex legal issues. It would be great if you could simply resolve your injury claim without filing a suit. In some instances, you can.
A lawsuit is often your best or only option under these circumstances:
- The responsible party’s insurance company won’t negotiate fairly.
- Your injuries are serious, and they’ll take a long time to heal.
- You’re still undergoing rehabilitation.
- Your statute of limitations is about to run.
- The responsible party’s insurance carrier denied liability or coverage.
- The insurance company needs to understand that you’re serious about pursuing your claim.
By the time an injured person files a lawsuit, responsible parties and their insurers usually have enough information to resolve their injury claim without legal action. They simply choose not to do it. Liability insurers usually investigate their clients’ accidents as soon as they receive a report. They find out if the other vehicle’s occupants have injuries that likely exceed the no-fault threshold, and they determine if their insured is legally liable.
Insurers have many opportunities to negotiate a settlement with an injured person or their legal representatives. They could execute a release, pay the claim, close their files, and move on to the next case. Instead, they force an injured person to file a lawsuit to recover their damages. This is often a negotiation strategy.
How a Lawsuit Works
Injured people file lawsuits when they perceive that it’s the best way (or the only way) to recover money for their property or personal injury damages. A lawsuit sets up a legal framework for you to present your evidence to a court.
The Plaintiff and the Defendant
When you file a lawsuit to seek damages for your injuries, you become the plaintiff. As a plaintiff, you sue the parties who are legally responsible for causing your injuries. An attorney must file a lawsuit (complaint) using standardized language in a format that’s dictated by the court. A lawsuit can’t be based on emotions or feelings. It must provide factual information and present a valid liability theory. You must also have evidence to support your allegations.
The person or entity you sue is designated in a lawsuit as the defendant. When you or your attorney deliver a copy of your lawsuit to the defendant, they must file a formal answer to your allegations.
Filing a Pro Se (Self-Represented) Lawsuit
Courts urge everyone to have an attorney represent them, but you have the right to file your lawsuit pro se. When you choose to represent yourself, however, the court doesn’t play favorites, nor does it show mercy toward the unrepresented. The judge and court administrators will treat you the same as they would a person represented by an attorney. They will hold you to the same standards, guidelines, deadlines, and decorum. If you choose this option, you have access to court forms, legal research, process servers, and other materials through the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Resource page.
Honestly, however, you’re far better off hiring a personal injury lawyer to handle all of these tasks for you.
Working With an Attorney
Personal injury attorneys do whatever is necessary to prepare your case, file your lawsuit, and manage your active litigation. If you have a serious injury, you have a better chance of success when you work with a personal injury attorney.
An attorney doesn’t have a learning curve when it comes to court-related matters. They understand legal and damage issues. They know the court system, the standards, and the procedures that govern your case. After your attorney files your lawsuit, your case becomes one among many on a judge’s civil docket. Wait times are usually unpredictable. That’s why attorneys take advantage of every available opportunity to move your case forward.
The Slow Process of Moving Your Case Through the Court System
If you’ve ever seen a lawsuit portrayed on a sitcom, you might believe that lawyers resolve complex cases in a matter of days or weeks. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Courts handle thousands of civil cases each year.
The statistics for one recent year demonstrate the large number of cases typically pending in Orange County.
- Orange County Circuit Civil: 18,377 cases
- Orange County Court: 52,165 cases
- Orange County: 8,178 cases
Once your case becomes active, your attorney participates in multiple discovery tasks and procedural activities that help move it through the court system. Your attorney must comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure and Administrative Policies and Procedures. These and other standards lay out a system of rules for motions, hearings, conferences, trials, and other formal court interactions.
Attorneys also participate in discovery. They schedule and attend witness depositions. They produce requested discovery materials, obtain medical reports, and provide evidence and documentation to prove damages and liability.
You Still Have Settlement Opportunities
If you have a pending lawsuit, you don’t have to complete discovery or schedule a trial date to move your case forward. Your attorney has several options for speeding up the resolution process.
Mediation is a form of facilitated negotiation that helps parties resolve their differences. In some cases, judges require that plaintiffs and defendants attempt mediation before trying their case. All involved parties must participate. This includes plaintiffs, their attorneys, and their insurance carriers’ claim representatives.
During mediation, a trained impartial mediator works with adverse parties to promote settlement. The mediator separates the parties and encourages them to discuss their evidence and their settlement positions. The adverse parties eventually come together in the same room. The mediator encourages them but doesn’t pressure them to share their information. The mediator also encourages meaningful negotiations.
Parties don’t always resolve disputed issues through mediation. The process often paves the way for productive negotiation in the future. By coming together, adverse parties often establish a rapport that allows them to settle at a later time.
The current pandemic conditions have changed the mediation process somewhat. Mediators now conduct sessions via Zoom and other digital platforms.
Parties may have a choice between binding or non-binding arbitration. Arbitration operates similarly to a bench trial. The parties select an arbitrator or a panel of arbitrators to decide their case. Each side presents evidence and the arbitrator makes a decision. In binding arbitration, the parties agree ahead of time to accept the decision.
When a lawsuit is pending, it doesn’t prohibit active negotiations. In fact, most judges encourage plaintiffs and defendants to settle their differences outside the courtroom. Attorneys create opportunities to participate in negotiations during informal conversations and pretrial hearings.
How Insurance Companies Deal With Lawsuits
Insurance claim departments see lawsuits as an integral part of claims handling. They defend so many suits, they often have claim units dedicated solely to litigated cases. Some insurers also have salaried staff attorneys. They keep defense costs down because they don’t charge hourly fees. This gives insurers the flexibility to defend cases at will.
Insurance companies understand that their actions often encourage injured people to file lawsuits. When they deny liability or make low settlement offers, they understand that their actions motivate injured plaintiffs to push back. When a plaintiff files a suit, insurers sometimes use it as an element of strategy that furthers their settlement goals.
When an attorney files a personal injury lawsuit, insurers understand that the injured person might not be ready to move forward with costly discovery. Insurers sometimes take advantage of this by filing interrogatories, noticing depositions, and by scheduling conferences and hearings. This formal discovery activity often forces plaintiffs and their attorneys to pay unanticipated litigation costs.
Plaintiff’s attorneys often have no choice. They must comply with formal discovery requests or risk losing their client’s case on a technicality. When they comply, the discovery expenses they incur ultimately reduce the net settlement amount. This strategy forces plaintiffs to make economic choices that may include accepting an insurance company’s low offer.
Sometimes, a low offer reflects a difference in how an insurer and an injured person evaluate a claim. At other times, a low offer is simply an insurer’s attempt to settle a claim for less than their reserve (or before the end of the year or before the statute of limitations runs). Ultimately, a low offer forces an injured person to make a choice. They must accept less money than they need or file a lawsuit, even if they don’t want to.
If an insurer has a coverage concern, they sometimes file a lawsuit against their insured to let the courts resolve the issue. This often puts a plaintiff’s injury lawsuit on hold while they iron out their differences. Insurers sometimes use coverage issues and lawsuits to manipulate plaintiffs into a low dollar settlement. Pending coverage issues often lower the injured plaintiff’s settlement expectations. Plaintiffs must make a choice: either accept a low settlement or run the risk of receiving no settlement at all.
When an insurer believes they can diminish a case’s value based on negligence issues, they often push plaintiffs to file a lawsuit. They accomplish this by making an unacceptably low offer or by denying liability altogether. This often leaves a plaintiff with no options for recovering a reasonable settlement other than filing a lawsuit. If an injured plaintiff doesn’t want to file a lawsuit, the insurer closes their claim file and pays nothing.
Do You Need an Attorney to File a Lawsuit?
Definitely. It’s usually impossible to control a lawsuit’s duration, but you have more options when you work with a personal injury attorney. While you have the right to handle your lawsuit any way you choose, attorneys provide critical insight, and they help their clients navigate the legal system. Attorneys review evidence, analyze legal issues, and file the appropriate legal documents promptly. They deal with insurance companies and negotiate aggressively to provide the best possible outcomes for their injured clients.
When you consult with a personal injury attorney, your first appointment is complimentary. A legal consultation allows you to discuss your case with a legal professional and learn more about your legal options. When you meet with an attorney, you have no obligation to make a claim or file a lawsuit. You make the choice that’s best for you and your circumstances.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814