How Long Does a Personal Injury Case Take? - Sara Williams ESQ

How Long Does a Personal Injury Case Take?

April 25, 2021

Personal injury law states that if a person suffers bodily injury due to another person’s negligence, the victim is entitled to seek compensation for their medical expenses, other related expenses and various financial losses, including lost wages. This appears quite straightforward – victims file personal injury claims against the responsible party’s insurance company and they get paid. In reality, each personal injury case in Alabama is unique, with special characteristics and challenges that may prolong its duration. In my experience as a personal injury attorney, the right path towards maximum compensation involves patience and making the right choices at every step of the way.

The Key Challenge in a Personal Injury Case in Alabama

Any personal injury lawyer worth their salt knows that Alabama has strict laws concerning settlement eligibility for personal injury victims. Our state is one of the four that applies the contributory negligence rule. This means that, no matter how seriously you were injured, you are not entitled to seek financial compensation by settlement negotiations or a personal injury lawsuit if you are even 1% responsible for the event that caused your injuries.

For instance, if you fail to fully stop at the red light and are hit by a speeding driver, the responsible party with the greatest proportion of fault is the reckless driver who exceeded the speed limit. However, you are also partly at fault, even though in a lesser proportion, because you did not stop completely. You are the injured person in this case, but the contributory fault law bars you from getting compensation.

Thus, one element that may prolong personal injury settlement is proving that accident victims were 0% responsible for the occurrence. This is something that insurance adjusters will challenge at every step of the way. You need experienced personal injury attorney, who will identify and collect all relevant evidence to prove your case.

The Timeline of a Personal Injury Case

To give an idea of how a personal injury case plays out, you need to know what to do and in what order. In my experience, many people who are eligible for fair settlement hurt their own case by attempting to negotiate their own payout. This is what insurance companies want – a vulnerable person, who does not know the laws and their rights.

They will offer a quick settlement that is nowhere near your full expenses for medical treatment in case of severe injuries. Even if you don’t accept it, you will probably say things that the insurance company will use to argue against your case, when your lawyer is trying to negotiate a reasonable settlement for you.

Thus, here is what any personal injury victim should do in order to maximize their chances of getting compensated for all types of damages allowed by law:

1. Seek Medical Attention

Your health and improving your chances of recovery must be the first things on your mind. I know that you are confused and in shock, but self preservation instincts always kick in. Call 9-1-1 and ask for an ambulance as well as the police. Their report of the accident will be one of the valuable pieces of evidence you will need at a later date.

When a period of time – weeks or even days – passes after an accident, the discovery process of evidence is seriously hampered. Most traces of the occurrence have been cleaned or washed away and witnesses may forget part of the relevant details of what they saw and heard.

You should accept to be taken to a hospital for full evaluation and specialized medical care. The report prepared by the EMT supported by future tests and treatments will create a full medical record, indicating the extent and severity of injuries directly attributable to the accident.

2. Collect Evidence at the Accident Site

As far as possible, gather as much evidence as possible at the accident scene while you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive. For instance, in case of a car accident, you should document:

  • the extent of your injuries and damage to your car by taking photos with your phone
  • the other party’s motorist insurance coverage
  • the contact details of any witnesses
  • potential elements that may have contributed to the crash: potholes, obstacles on the road.

The entire process of getting compensation depends on identifying the fault party and proving that they are solely responsible for the accident.

3. Hire an Injury Law Firm

You should retain legal representation as soon as possible. If you are in hospital for a longer period of time, a family member can get in touch with the lawyer to start the initial paperwork necessary for filing your claim and starting the settlement negotiation process.

Under no circumstances should you talk with a representative of the insurance carrier on your own. They will seek you out with the first opportunity and attempt to persuade you to take their settlement. While you are in physical pain and emotional distress, you are in no shape to make such an important decision.

Plus, as I explained above, you do not know the complexities of personal injury law in Alabama and the implication of each and any thing you say on your future chances of getting a fair settlement.

4. Fully Cooperate with Your Lawyer

The first thing you must know is that anything you say to your personal injury attorney is protected by confidentiality. Secondly, any information you fail to disclose may be found out by the other party, making your case harder to win.

Your lawyer will need to know aspects such as:

  • any factual issues about the accident, including all involved parties
  • contact details of relevant witnesses
  • injury history and preexisting conditions at the time of the accident.   

5. The Lawyer Files Your Bodily Injury Insurance Claim

The claim for compensation will contain a description of the accident, indicating the negligent party and the extent of your physical injury and property damage, as well as the amount of financial compensation you request. The claim will be supported with evidence and documents, such as:

  • report on your medical condition prepared by your doctor and third party medical professionals, if necessary
  • hospital bills
  • cost of treatment, including physical therapy
  • total lost wages
  • cost to fix damaged property
  • future medical costs and long term care if you are left with permanent injury.

6. The Personal Injury Attorney Negotiates with the Insurance Company

An experienced lawyer will attempt to negotiate with the insurance company of the person responsible for your personal injury. This negotiation may take a couple of months or more, depending on the way the discussions progress. If the insurance company representatives believe that you have a weak case, they will refuse negotiations, stick to their offer and hope to win the case in court.

7. You Are Instructed to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you have a strong case, the lawyer will cease fruitless negotiations and represent you in a personal injury lawsuit. The typical timeline for this kind of legal action is:

  • pre-litigation phase, including the negotiations with the insurance adjuster
  • litigation phase, when the case is submitted to court for trial
  • trial phase, when the parties submit their evidence and make their claims
  • appeal phase, when the party who disagrees with the verdict may require a new trial.

As you can observe, the standard timeline for any personal injury case contains many phases. This is why you have to retain legal representation as soon as possible. The statute of limitations in Alabama is two years starting from the date of the accident that caused your injuries. By trying to settle your compensation on your own, you are only losing valuable time. When you realize that you need professional representation, it may be too late to take legal action.

Circumstances that May Prolong Your Personal Injury Case

As I said at the beginning of this article, each case has its unique circumstances and challenges. No two accidents happen in the same way. Even if they did, the way the settlement negotiations play out are different. In general, the main issues that will make the entire process longer are:

You Need Extensive Medical Treatments

If you are severely injured in a major accident (traumatic brain injury, spine injury) the settlement negotiations will be postponed until you reach maximum medical improvement. This is the point when your doctors can say with confidence that you may not recover any further.

Only at this point can your personal injury attorney calculate:

  • your medical expenses
  • cost of rehabilitation, including physical therapy, assistive devices, home modifications
  • ongoing costs for care, after consulting with life care experts.

Your Claim Amount Is Substantial

If your claim is a six figures number, the insurance company will certainly challenge it and start their own investigations in order to counteract it. This takes time, and there is nothing your lawyer can do, as long as the insurance adjuster is not unreasonably delaying the process.

Whenever a substantial compensation is involved, you have to be patient. A quick settlement for a lower amount is exactly what insurance companies want to obtain and they count on people losing hope and accepting their terms. Your attorney may obtain five or six times more the settlement amount the insurance company offers, either through negotiations or at the end of the litigation process.

The Insurance Company Challenges Your Account of the Accident

Once again, I draw your attention to the contributory negligence law in Alabama. Insurance companies will always try to identify ways in which you can be considered responsible for the occurrence, even in a small proportion. It is enough to give them the right to deny your claim.

For this reason, I cannot stress enough how important it is to collect as much evidence as possible right after the accident and to be honest with your lawyer. In some cases, you really had a small part of the fault for the occurrence and attempting to hide this will do no good. Insurance companies employ experts and lawyers who will do everything in their power to limit the number of claims the company has to pay and the amount of monetary compensation per claim.

If you are unsure whether you may be at fault, simply state how the incident happened, without leaving out any detail. A skilled personal injury attorney has the experience and knowledge of law to determine whether you have a case or not.

Types of Compensation You May Recover in a Personal Injury Case

Personal injury law in Alabama allows victims to seek compensation for the economic damages already listed above, from hospital bills to lost wages and various related expenses. Additional compensation for non-economic damages is also allowed as the law recognizes that people should be reimbursed for their pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, mental anguish and emotional trauma.

In the settlement talks, your personal injury attorney will bring forward various pieces of evidence, including statements from your family and friends, demonstrating that the accident had a devastating impact on your life.

Last but not least, it may be possible to file for punitive damages. In order to qualify for this type of damages, your lawyer needs to present “clear and convincing evidence” that the responsible party “deliberately engaged in oppression, fraud, wantonness, or malice”.

Using the example of a traffic accident, a drunk driver who is speeding may be deemed to have behaved in a wanton manner. If successful in proving the eligibility of punitive damages, the maximum amount you may be awarded according to Alabama law is $1,500,000.

I Am Ready to Represent You and Win Your Case

I am Sara Williams, Esq, a personal injury lawyer with a proven track record. I fight to see justice served for each client and do not settle for anything below a fair compensation amount.

If you have suffered a personal injury, I will review your case and tell you what your legal options are to recover your economic and non-economic damages. You deserve professional representation, so fill in the online form and tell me about your case!

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