Being injured in any kind of accident caused by someone else is stressful enough. Then you file your personal injury claim, and you start to wonder how soon it will be over. It seems like it should be easy enough: The other person was drunk and rear-ended you at the stoplight. How long can it take?
The answer might surprise you. Even the most straightforward personal injury claim can take two to three years to make its way through the courts. Unless a settlement is offered immediately, it is more likely than not that it will take quite some time.
What Takes So Long? Part One: Investigation
To establish who is responsible, and therefore who must pay the damages, both your attorney and the other party’s attorney or insurance company must investigate the entire case.
Doing this properly means obtaining not just your insurance claim form and the other party’s claim form, although that’s a start. It also means they must have:
- The police report. The police reports are not available until ten days after the accident.
- Medical reports. Both the insurance company and your attorney need the reports from any emergency treatment you received and from your doctors for any treatment afterward. The longer you took to get medical care after the accident, the longer this can take. All doctors and medical offices require a release from you to give your records to insurance companies and attorneys, and they won’t give anyone the records until they have that release.
- Witness statements. Anyone who saw the accident can provide a statement. But before that, your attorney needs to contact them and ask if it is beneficial to you or not. This takes more time.
- Financial statements. The insurance company must have some idea of what your bills are before they can offer a settlement. You will need to collect all the invoices from any doctors, repair shops, hospitals, even your attorney, and provide it to the insurance company. Just like collecting the medical reports, it can take time to get all of this from the doctors’ offices.
Once all this documentation has been gathered and sent to the insurance company, they must review it. That can take time.
What Takes So Long? Part Two: Negotiation
After the insurance company gets all this data and reads it, they may make a settlement offer. Suppose it is obvious that you did nothing wrong, and the other driver was entirely at fault. The insurance company may offer to pay you a sum of money that would pay the hospital bills and fix your car. If you and your attorney agree that is fair, congratulations. Your case is over.
But suppose it is less obvious who was right and who was wrong. In that case, the insurance company will offer you a settlement based on their opinion of who was more at fault and who was less at fault.
Louisiana follows the pure comparative negligence rule. That means that each party’s recovery is dependent on their percentage of liability in the case. If you are believed to be 30 percent liable for your injuries, you can only recover 70 percent of your compensable losses.
Negotiations outside of court will usually hinge on things like damage estimates, and treatment options, such as going to different mechanics, or massage therapy as opposed to expensive surgery. If you believe you were completely free of liability and the other person was 100 percent at fault, or the negotiation cannot cover things like lifetime care, then it must go to a trial.
What Takes So Long? Part Three: Trial
Once a case goes to trial, everything slows down. The reason for this is that things like service of documents, time allowed for the other party to respond, and setting dates for conferences and hearings are set by statute, and in most cases, cannot be changed.
For instance, once you have filed your initial document, the “complaint,” the other party has thirty days to file a response. There is no way to make them hurry up or force them to answer you sooner than thirty days.
The courts are busy, and judges’ time is limited. Court dates for hearings and trials are set months or years in advance. If the hearing officer sets a date for nine months from now, then that date is the earliest possible date, and there is no way to make it happen sooner. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, some courts are backlogged a year or more, making things even slower as courts clear up cases that have been pending since 2020 and before.
The best advice we can give you is to get legal counsel right away and start your personal injury case immediately if you are involved in any kind of accident. The legal team at Veron Bice, LLC will review your case and let you know the best way to proceed. Call us at 337-310-1600 and let us get started now.