| Read Time: 8 minutes | Personal Injury
how long does a personal injury lawsuit take

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 do personal injury cases take to settle.

At MG Law, we created this blog post as a general reference guide to the personal injury lawsuit timeline. Remember, every case is unique, and it is difficult to predict with certainty just how long yours might take.

However, personal injury lawsuits should be considered a long-distance race, not a sprint. Feel free to reach out for a free consultation; call (770) 988-5252 or through our contact form.

Statute of Limitations

Before diving into the typical timeline of how long does a personal injury case take to settle, 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. 

Demand Letter

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. 

Answer

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.

Discovery Begins

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. 

Mediation

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.

Mediation plays a critical role in personal injury lawsuits by offering a platform for dispute resolution outside of court.

Here’s how effective mediation can streamline the settlement process:

  • Neutral mediator. A skilled mediator can help clarify issues, assess the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s arguments, and facilitate a realistic discussion about settlement possibilities.
  • Preparation and willingness. Parties that come prepared with all necessary documentation and a genuine desire to negotiate can often resolve their disputes through mediation without proceeding to trial.
  • Cost-Effective. Mediation is generally less expensive than a trial and can significantly reduce both parties’ overall legal costs.

Incorporating mediation effectively into the lawsuit timeline often speeds up the process and results in more amicable settlements, preserving relationships and reducing emotional stress.

Motion Practice

Motion practice plays a crucial role in the progression of a personal injury lawsuit. It involves filing motions that can either expedite or delay the process, depending on the strategy employed.

Understanding the types of motions and their impact can help you better anticipate the timeline of your case:

  • Motions for summary judgment. These motions are filed when one party believes the facts are undisputed and they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If granted, a summary judgment can end the case without a trial, significantly speeding up the process.
  • Discovery motions. Motions regarding discovery may include attempts to compel responses when one party does not comply with discovery requests or requests to protect against overly burdensome discovery demands. Effective management of these motions can prevent delays during the discovery phase and ensure that the necessary evidence is available for a timely resolution of the case.
  • Motions in limine. Filed before the trial begins, these motions seek to exclude specific evidence from being presented at trial. They help streamline the trial process by determining what evidence can be considered in advance. 
  • Motions for continuance. These requests delay the trial date. While they can extend the lawsuit timeline, they are sometimes necessary to ensure that all evidence is appropriately reviewed and all witnesses are available to testify, ultimately contributing to a fair trial.
  • Motions regarding experts. Lawyers file these to challenge expert witnesses’ qualifications or their testimony’s admissibility. Given the pivotal role of expert testimony in personal injury cases, these motions can significantly influence the proceedings.

Engaging in motion practice effectively requires your attorney’s proactive and strategic approach. While some motions can extend the timeline, others can expedite the process by resolving key issues early or simplifying the trial. Your attorney’s ability to navigate this aspect of the lawsuit is crucial in managing the overall duration of your case.

Trial

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. 

Appeal

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 Factors

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.

Settlement Agreement

First, you will need to review and sign the settlement agreement. This agreement 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.

Common Reasons for Delays in Personal Injury Settlements

Understanding the factors that can delay your personal injury settlement is crucial.

Common reasons include:

  • Disputed liability. When the parties involved dispute who is at fault, additional investigations and evidence are required, prolonging negotiations and possibly leading to trial.
  • Multiple parties are involved. Cases involving multiple defendants, such as commercial truck accidents, often face delays due to the complexities of determining each party’s degree of fault.
  • Severe injuries requiring ongoing treatment. If the victim’s injuries are severe and require long-term treatment, final medical assessments may delay settlements until a clearer picture of the prognosis and future medical costs can be established.
  • Insurance companies’ tactics. Insurers may employ delay tactics to pressure the injured party into settling for less. That includes slow claim processing and extended review periods for submitted evidence.

These delays can be frustrating, but understanding their causes can help set realistic expectations and prepare for a potentially extended legal process.

Factors That Could Speed Up the Lawsuit Process

Several factors can accelerate the personal injury timeline, which may be beneficial in reaching a quicker resolution:

  • Early and effective mediation. Engaging in mediation soon after the discovery phase can lead to faster settlements. Mediation allows both parties to discuss the damages and negotiate compensation without the formalities of court proceedings.
  • Clear liability and comprehensive documentation. When liability is clear and indisputable, and all documentation (medical reports, police reports, witness statements) is readily available, the process tends to move faster.
  • Willingness to settle. If both parties are motivated to settle, perhaps due to the clear-cut nature of the case or desire to avoid publicity, negotiations can proceed more swiftly.
  • Proactive legal representation: Having an attorney who actively pushes the case forward, schedules prompt discovery, and maintains pressure on the defense can significantly reduce delays.

By leveraging these factors, parties can often reduce the time spent in prolonged litigation and reach a satisfactory settlement sooner.

Contact Our Georgia Personal Injury Lawyers

If, after reading this blog post, you are still wondering, How long does a personal injury case take? or How long do personal injury cases 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.

Author Photo

Amer Ahmad is a trial lawyer at MG Law. He represents seriously injured clients who are going through some of the most difficult moments of their lives. Amer’s practice includes representing families in wrongful death cases and individuals seriously injured by motor vehicle accidents, negligently maintained premises, and defective products. As a former insurance attorney who knows the insurance companies’ playbook, he helps MG Law clients even the playing field and avoid insurance tricks. Due to his experience and results, Amer has been named a Georgia Rising Star by Super Lawyers and Atlanta Magazine from 2019 until 2024. Only 2.5% of all lawyers in Georgia are selected as Rising Stars.