One of the questions we hear at Mooney Law is “how long will it take to get my car accident injury case settled?” It’s a very good question to ask but most often my answer is probably the most typical answer coming from an attorney regardless of the question – “it depends.” I know this is not the most satisfying answer, it is not entirely a complete answer, but it is definitely the most truthful answer I can provide. How long it will take depends on a variety of factors. It will depend on the complexity of the case with respect to proving who was at fault for the accident, how serious the injuries were, and how long you require medical treatment.
Let’s start with the game clock for a fairly simple car accident case. Even then it will depend on where the crash occurred. Our firm handles car accident cases in both Pennsylvania and Maryland. In Pennsylvania, you have two years from the date of the accident to either settle your case or file a lawsuit in court to begin litigation. In Maryland, you have three years from the date of the accident to either settle or file suit. If you fail to settle or file suit within the applicable deadline (this is called the statute of limitations), you lose your legal right to ever pursue a claim against the person who caused the crash or that person’s insurance company. These time limitations are the general rules but there are a few exceptions to these statute of limitations rules (for example if you are a minor on the date of accident).
Every auto accident case is different. Some involve very clear fault issues such as when you are rear-ended at a stop sign, the police respond, and the driver who struck you from behind admits it was his fault to the officer and his insurance company. In other cases, there can be disputes over what happened, sometimes people are not truthful, and there may be a lack of unbiased witnesses. Again, there are some differences between Pennsylvania and Maryland. In Pennsylvania, if you are found to be over 50% at fault you cannot recover damages from the other driver or their insurance company. If you are found to be less than 50% at fault, the value of your case is diminished by your percentage of fault. So for example, if you had a case that would be worth $10,000 if the other driver was found 100% at fault, but instead you were found 40% at fault and the other driver was found 60% percent at fault, you would recover $6,000 representing the $10,000 fair value of claim minus $4,000 representing your share of fault. In Maryland however, if you are found even 1% at fault, you cannot recover from the other party or their insurer. So in cases where fault is not completely clear, where the crash occurred will determine how likely the case is to resolve.
Sometimes in order to gather the necessary evidence to prove who was at fault much work needs to be done, which can and will slow the entire process. We have handled cases where we had to interview many witnesses, consult with an accident reconstruction expert, and work with law enforcement authorities before we can even get a clear indication as to who was at fault and whether we can prove the client’s case. Cases like this can take many months or even a year or more before they are ready for either settlement discussions or brought to court. On the other end of the spectrum, we have handled the clear-cut cases where it is quite easy to figure out who was at fault. In these cases, evaluating and presenting our client’s damages evidence is where the bulk of our work is focused.
Probably the most important factor that often dictates how long it takes to get a client’s case settled is how badly they were injured, what type of medical treatment they required, and how long they remained in medical treatment. In order for us to fully and accurately evaluate our client’s case we try to wait until the client has completed medical treatment or reached Maximum Medical Improvement prior to settling the case. Maximum Medical Improvement is the point at which the client has either made a full recovery or has reached a point where they will recover no further. The more serious the injury the longer it usually takes to reach Maximum Medical Improvement. Sometimes a client will not reach this point within applicable statute of limitations and we must file a lawsuit in order to protect our client’s right to continue to pursue their case. But in most cases our clients do stop treatment or reach Maximum Medical Improvement before we must file suit. Rarely do we want to move forward with settlement discussions if our client remains in medical treatment because the value of the claim is based on treatment actually received. A phrase I like to use is that “insurance companies don’t pay for ‘what if down the road.'” The insurance company is going to evaluate the case based on the treatment received, not what could happen or may never happen in the future. Once we are advised that treatment has ceased, we begin the process of ordering medical records, medical bills, and pay logs. Some medical providers and insurers respond promptly, others do not and require frequent follow up calls on our end to get the information we requested and need to evaluate our client’s case. But I would note that it does typically take several months for medical bills to get processed once medical treatment stops and it usually takes several months for the medical providers to supply the records once requested.
Now you see my initial answer to the question “how long will it take to get my case settled?” holds true, it really does depend. If your case is a rear-ender and you are not hurt badly, you have a few months of physical therapy and you heal completely, your case may take 4 to 6 months to settle. If you are involved in a major accident with conflicting and confusing versions as to who was at fault and your injuries are severe and your medical treatment prolonged, the case could take several years to come to a resolution. If you have questions and want to speak to someone about the process involved in bringing a car accident claim, give us a call. At Mooney Law we are happy to walk you through the process and help you make the right decision regarding your injury claim.
Mooney Law has 16 offices in Pennsylvania and Maryland. With so many locations, we provide you with quality legal representation at a location convenient to you. We are here to answer your questions. Call Mooney Law toll free at 877-MOONEYLAW to discuss your situation. Consultations are always free on injury cases. We are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm and we have evening hours from 5-7pm on certain days of the week at many of our locations. Check out our website at www.mooney4law.com to see our locations and hours.