As a personal injury lawyer, one of the first questions I get from a new client is, “How long is this going to take?” The only honest answer that I, or any other lawyer, can give is, “I don’t know.” And the reason for that is a little complicated, but in this brief writing I will try to simplify it.
Every case is unique. No two accidents are exactly the same, and no two injuries are exactly alike. Some cases have only a small amount of available insurance coverage, and others have way more than needed. Some cases require a lawsuit, or even a trial, while others can be resolved by just sending a claim letter and medical records. Some insurance companies or individual claim representatives like to settle early, but others like to defend to the end. Fair and reasonable compensation for one client may be very different for another. I think you see where I am going with this – the moral of the story is: Just because your cousin’s friend’s case settled in six months, does not mean that your similar case won’t take four years.
Here are two fictitious examples of similar cases, with similar results, but one takes much longer to resolve than the other, for reasons that will become clear:
(1) A retired grandmother is crossing the street in a crosswalk, with the light in her favor. A young man makes a quick turn without seeing the grandma, hits her, and breaks her ankle. The young man admitted fault to the Police, and he has a $100,000 insurance policy with an insurance company known for settling claims early. Due to her age, grandma’s ankle does not heal great, but her life is not very impacted by the injury once the cast comes off. After sending the insurance company the Police Report and the medical records, within six months a settlement for $75,000 is negotiated out of the possible $100,000.
(2) A 25 year old hedge fund manager leaves a night club, crosses the street, and gets hit by a car, breaking his ankle. He maintains that he was walking in the crosswalk, with the “walk” sign. But the nice old man car driver says that the young man ran out between two cars, and there was nothing he could do. The car’s insurance company, and the claim adjuster, will only believe their insured’s story, and they argue that the ankle healed great, without any residual problems for the young man. So the offer to settle at six months is only $15,000, despite an available $1,000,000 policy. Hence, the lawsuit is filed in a very busy Court system, depositions take place, and the case goes all the way to trial four years later. During the trial a final offer of $75,000 is made for settlement. The offer is accepted because the jury seems to believe the driver much more than the over-confident, young hedge fund manager, and his ankle did heal perfectly (there are videos of him playing tennis for years since the accident).
Our job is to try to make the client whole again. The law says you do that with fair and reasonable money compensation for pain and suffering, lost income, and other economic losses. In order to obtain what is fair for each particular client/case may take just six months, or may require your lawyer to go the distance with a patient client.
Make sure your lawyer has the ability to correctly handle the short, simple cases, as well as the difficult ones that will take many years. Because in the beginning, you just don’t know how long it will take.