There are more than 400,000 personal injury claims filed in the United States every year. Each involves a unique set of circumstances that result in complex legal proceedings. Most of these end with a settlement before they go to trial, though not all of them.
You may be wondering, “How long do lawsuits take to settle?” This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on myriad factors that are different for each case. However, once you understand what these variables are, you will have a better idea of how they might apply to your particular claim.
The information below outlines the factors that can influence a settlement process and how they can impact your case. Keep reading to find out more.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
The first step in attempting to answer “How long do lawsuits take to settle?” is to look at the type of injury claim you are dealing with. There are many different kinds of personal injury cases, each with varying levels of complexity.
In general, injury lawsuits are based on the idea that an obligation owed to an individual was not met, and that resulted in injury. This does not always involve malice or intention to do harm (though it can), but some form of negligence.
Common examples include a traffic accident where someone failed to abide by driving laws or a workplace injury resulting from hazardous conditions. Claims can stem from medical malpractice by a health professional the makes a surgical error or misdiagnoses an illness.
A final major category of personal injury claims is product liability. These result from injury caused by a defective design or poorly manufactured product. Product liability claims also can result if a company failed to give adequate warning about the dangers of using it.
How Long Do Lawsuits Take To Settle?
There are many steps to the lawsuit process. Understanding them will help you determine how and when settlements can arise. Here are the major phases to consider.
The first step in a personal injury case is to file a “complaint.” This is a formal document that lays out the accusations and “damages” being sought (see below) and is filed with the appropriate court of law.
Plaintiffs (the accusing party) have a specified window in which to do this, called the “statute of limitations.” This is a certain duration from when the injury occurred. After this happens, the defendant’s lawyer will file an “answer” to the complaint, most likely denying wrongdoing by their client.
The amount of time you have to file varies by jurisdiction and the type of claim you bring. There also are exceptions to the statute of limitations.
These include cases involving minors, people with disabilities, or if the injured party was unaware of the harm until a later date. An experienced attorney can help you determine if these circumstances apply to your case and how long you have to file a claim.
The next phase of a lawsuit is “discovery.” This is where both parties present the evidence they intend to use during the trial. It includes their versions of what they believe caused (or failed to cause) the injury.
During the next step, each side schedules depositions. These are interviews of witnesses, where lawyers representing both sides are present. These involve a lot of questions directed toward eyewitnesses, experts, or anyone who has relevant information about the incident that caused the injury.
All the answers witnesses give during depositions are under oath, as with testimony during court. A court reporter records them, and this transcript can then be used in court.
Once the deposition phase completes, there is often the option for mediation. Some states require this phase, but it is almost always an option (in some form or fashion), regardless of jurisdiction. Also note that, while it most often happens before trial, a judge can recommend mediation after a trial has commenced.
Mediation involves a meeting (or series of meetings) between the two sides. The plaintiff’s attorney presents a summary of their understanding of the facts, and the defendant has a chance to respond. In formal mediation, a third attorney (known as a “mediator”) listens to both sides and tries to resolve the dispute.
Besides the facts of the case, mediation revolves around “damages,” or the dollar amount sought by the plaintiff. Damages are meant to compensate (“compensatory damages”) for their medical bills; loss of salary and earning potential; pain and suffering; diminishment of quality of life; or other economic or non-economic harm that results from the injury.
Plaintiffs also can seek “punitive damages,” which punish a defendant that has intentionally caused harm or acted in an egregiously negligent manner. An example is knowingly producing a product that could injure consumers). Punitive damages are almost always determined by a judge or jury during trial, and not settled during mediation.
If the two sides agree on the appropriate level of damages, then a settlement is reached. In these instances, the case is completed, and there is no need for a trial.
With the exception of new evidence arising or other extenuating circumstances, neither plaintiffs nor defendants can appeal the decision. That is because both sides agree to the decision.
If a lawsuit settlement is not reached beforehand, the final step is the trial. A judge presides over a trial, and a jury decides the outcome of the case. If a jury decides in favor of the plaintiff, they will also determine how much is owed in both compensatory and punitive (if applicable) damages.
As mentioned, there is no rule that settlements must be reached before a trial. At any point during the proceedings, both sides can agree to a settlement. For instance, settlements often happen following particularly damning testimony by witnesses that could likely sway a jury one way or the other.
Learn More About the Lawsuit Settlement Process
Now that you have an answer to “How long do lawsuits take to settle?” you will have a better idea of what to expect. An experienced, qualified attorney can further advise you on the particular circumstances related to your case.
Heard Merman Trial Lawyers bring over half a century of combined legal experience. We specialize in personal injury and work-related injuries and will work tirelessly to get your case the resolution you deserve. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your claim.