Were you or a loved one recently injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence?
You might be contemplating pursuing a personal injury lawsuit and wondering how long the process might take.
At MG Law, we created this blog post as a general reference guide to the personal injury lawsuit process and overall timeline. Remember, every case is unique, and it is difficult to predict with certainty just how long yours might take.
Statute of Limitations
Before diving into the typical timeline of how long personal injury cases take, it is essential to understand your obligations under the law. Specifically, the statute of limitations, or deadline that you typically have to file a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia, is two years from the date the injury or accident occurred.
Exceptions to the general rule may significantly shorten or extend this window. A seasoned Atlanta personal injury lawyer can help you determine your case’s applicable statute of limitations.
How Long Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Take?
The term personal injury encompasses a wide array of cases, including car accidents, truck crashes, slips and falls, dog bites, and more. The type of accident can influence the timeline. For example, a minor fender bender with only one at-fault vehicle will likely resolve quicker than a complex commercial truck accident. The basic timeline for a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia progresses through the following steps.
Initial Consultations & Retaining a Lawyer
While there is no legal requirement that you have an attorney to file a personal injury lawsuit, we strongly encourage all accident victims to consult with one. These cases can quickly become complex. That said, the first step in your personal injury lawsuit will be to schedule initial consultations with one or more attorneys. Here, you will learn more about the attorney’s expertise and qualifications and ask how they can help you.
Once you retain an attorney, a demand letter is sent to the liable parties indicating what occurred and your request for compensation. A demand letter will typically include a brief description of the accident, your injuries, property damage, and a proposed settlement. There is no timeframe for how long you should wait between sending a demand letter and initiating a lawsuit. Still, you generally want to allow a reasonable window of opportunity for the defendant, their insurer, and possibly an attorney to review and discuss the demand. Typically, at least 60 days.
Filing a Civil Complaint
Suppose the liable party or their insurance carrier does not comply with the terms of your demand letter, and you cannot reach a pre-litigation agreement. In that case, your attorney will draft and file a formal complaint with the relevant court. Your attorney must then serve a copy of the complaint on all defendants.
Generally, a defendant must file their answer within 30 days of service of the complaint; otherwise, they risk default. The defendant may also file a counterclaim, third-party complaint, and assert affirmative defenses.
Once the defendant files an answer, the discovery phase begins. It tends to be one of the longest phases in a lawsuit, generally lasting a minimum of a few months but can be much longer depending on the case’s complexity.
There are generally two broad types of discovery: document and testimony.
Document discovery includes a request for answers to interrogatories and the production of documents. In other words, evidence exchange.
There will also be an opportunity for sworn testimony, typically through depositions. A deposition is recorded sworn testimony elicited by questioning an opposing counsel’s witness. Witnesses can be non-expert or lay witnesses, experts, and the plaintiff or defendant.
The discovery phase is meant to narrow down the scope of the case. It will generally illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case.
Throughout discovery, it is common for settlement negotiations to take place to see if the parties can reach an agreement.
The courts almost always require the parties to attend mediation to settle the case outside of trial. The mediation can last minutes to hours or even a few days. If the parties do not agree, the case will proceed to trial. If the case does settle, an agreement will be drawn up for the parties to sign, and the case will conclude.
Usually, once discovery is complete and the case progresses toward trial, the parties will engage in at least some motion practice. Examples of motions your attorney might file include motions for summary judgment and motions about discovery, including extensions. Motion practice can extend the overall lawsuit process by several months depending on how many and the type of motion. With each motion filed, the opposing party is entitled to time to respond, and the court may require the parties to come into court for oral arguments.
If the case has not been settled, it will proceed to either a jury or non-jury trial. At trial, each side will have an opportunity to present its case. However, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. The parties will make opening and closing arguments, call non-expert and expert witnesses to testify, and present any other relevant and admissible evidence.
If the plaintiff is successful, the judge or jury will render an award in their favor.
Depending on the case’s complexity, personal injury trials last several days to weeks.
Depending on the outcome and circumstances of the case, it may not end with a verdict but continue into an appeal. The appeal process is almost always long. It is common for appeals to take well over a year.
Predicting a precise time frame for your lawsuit is impossible. However, once your attorney has an opportunity to assess your case thoroughly, they can provide you with a better estimate. Several factors that will influence your timeline include:
- The nature of the accident and severity of your injury;
- Whether the defendant is willing to negotiate a settlement;
- Applicable insurance policies;
- The complexity and size of the case;
- The value of your damages, including medical bills and lost wages;
- The court’s caseload and availability;
- The amount of evidence to gather and review; and
- Disputes as to liability for the cause of the accident.
After assessing how these factors apply to your circumstances, your attorney will better understand how long your case may take from start to finish.
Settlement Check Timeline
So, you settled. You are probably wondering, How long does it take to receive a settlement check?
Like the lawsuit process, the timeframe for receiving your settlement check can vary significantly. However, on average, it will take about six weeks to receive your check from the date you signed the settlement because it often involves several steps.
First, you will need to review and sign the settlement agreement. This outlines the settlement terms and relieves the defendant of any future liability in exchange for the compensation.
Check Is Issued
After the settlement agreement is finalized and executed, the insurance company or defendant typically issues the check to your attorney’s trust account.
Once the check clears, your lawyer will deduct their fees and pay any liens or expenses you may be responsible for out of your settlement, including:
- Unpaid medical bills,
- Unpaid child support,
- Georgia government liens such as Medicare or Medicaid, and
- Expert fees.
Every case is different, and you may have minimal fees or a significant financial obligation to satisfy. Your attorney can provide an accounting of any expenses.
You Receive Your Money
Finally, your lawyer will issue you your settlement check. It is easy to see how this process can take at least a few weeks but often longer.
You should contact your personal injury attorney if you are still waiting to receive your settlement check within several weeks of signing the settlement documents. There may be a valid reason for the delay, including if it is a substantial settlement (e.g., over six figures), your attorney is holding the money in trust while negotiating liens and expenses, or you agreed to annuity payments rather than a lump sum.
Your lawyer can provide you with the reasons why your check may be delayed.
Contact Our Georgia Personal Injury Lawyers
If, after reading this blog post, you are still wondering, How long do personal injury cases take? or How long should a personal injury case take to settle? our attorneys are always available to take your call. At MG Law, our team is dedicated to helping you every step of the way. Get in touch with us today for a free consultation; call (770) 988-5252 or send an online message.