Q. How long does a personal injury case take to settle, and why is my car accident settlement taking so long?
A. A personal injury accident case in New York typically takes anywhere from 4 months to as much as 5 years to settle. Car accident cases often settle faster than other types of accidents.
The quickest or fastest personal injury settlement we had was 7 weeks after the accident for the entire insurance policy. Our client was a pedestrian hit by a car on Long Island, NY, and her leg was broken, which was worth far more than the car’s insurance policy, and we were able to get the hospital records quickly.
This article will explain why a personal injury case can take a long time to settle. You can also see a visual timeline of a personal injury case and lawsuit.
To understand the question, How Long Does a Personal Injury Case Take to Settle, this article will first explain the difference between a personal injury case and a personal injury claim, the difference between a settlement and a trial verdict, and then will go through all the stages of a personal injury case until settlement or a jury verdict at trial is awarded.
When you’re done reading this page, you’ll know the answer to the question, Why is my lawyer taking so long to settle my case?
What is the Difference Between a Personal Injury Case vs. a Personal Injury Claim
A personal injury claim is the beginning of the entire process of a personal injury case. If a personal injury case is settled in the claim stage, it means that the personal injury case was settled prior to filing a lawsuit.
When a personal injury case cannot be settled in the claim stage, or a lawyer knows that the case will never be settled in the claim stage, a lawsuit will be filed in court.
When we have a client with a serious injury and the defendant has a lot of insurance coverage or money available to compensate our client, a lawsuit will usually be filed quickly because it is unlikely the defendant will offer a fair settlement early in the case.
What is the Difference Between a Settlement vs. Trial Verdict
A personal injury case in New York is almost always settled before a trial. But most people don’t know that even if a personal injury case goes to trial, there are three times when personal injury cases are often settled:
- After picking a jury but before the trial starts
- During the trial
- Even after a jury renders a verdict, a personal injury case will still likely be settled because the defense can file an appeal.
If the injured plaintiff or defendant doesn’t want the case to go through the appeals process, a settlement may be reached, which can be for the same amount as the jury verdict or less than the amount the jury awarded. Either way, the plaintiff will sign a release in settlement of the personal injury case.
How Long Does a Personal Injury Case Take?
As stated above, in New York, a personal injury case typically takes anywhere from 4 months to as much as 5 years. Following are some of the factors that affect the time a personal injury case in New York typically takes:
- The type of injury can speed up or slow down a personal injury case (a broken leg will make a case go faster because it’s worth a lot of money, and the injury is known immediately, while a back injury will take many months and even years of treatment).
- The complexity of the case (some personal injury cases are much more complicated to determine who was negligent and by how much. Multiple defendants will also make it more complicated).
- Which state the court is in (New York State for this article)
- The county where the court is located (cases go much faster in Nassau than in The Bronx)
- The age of the plaintiff (a plaintiff who is 70 years old or older is entitled to have the case got to the front of the line while waiting for a trial date).
- Whether the case is settled early on or goes to trial much later.
Timeline of Settling a Personal Injury Case in New York
- 7 weeks was the fastest personal injury settlement we had (for the entire insurance policy).
- Fast personal injury settlements usually take 4-12 months.
- After a lawsuit is filed, cases may be settled within 12-24 months.
- After that, cases don’t usually settle until it’s close to the trial date. The time it takes to get to trial is typically 3.5 years to 5 years from the date of your accident.
Of course, we will try to move your case as fast as possible. Not only do you need the money, but we would also rather get the money sooner than later. That’s why we will push to have your deposition done if the defendant isn’t available. It can save 6-12 months of delaying tactics.
See a visual timeline of a personal injury case and lawsuit.
The rest of this article will the question will explain all the stages of a personal injury case so you can understand how long does a personal injury case take to settle?
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Why Do Insurance Companies Delay Settling and Paying Claims?
Besides the legitimate reasons illustrated in this article why a personal injury claim takes a long time to settle, insurance companies intentionally delay claims and delay paying claims settlements.
Insurance companies make a profit like any business does. They charge a premium that is more than what they will pay in claims and operating costs, including overhead and commissions.
But there is a second way that Insurance companies make a profit that other businesses don’t. It is this second method of making a profit that drives insurance companies to intentionally delay claims.
Insurance companies get paid upfront when you pay a premium and pay later when a claim is settled. This allows the insurance company to hold your money, invest it, and make a second profit.
The premium money held is called the float. It’s similar to banks that earn some of their money by using your money on deposit. But banks pay a small interest to you. Insurance companies keep the profit from your float.
If you rent an apartment and give the landlord a deposit, the landlord has to pay you interest earned on the deposit.
Warren Buffett best explained in a 2009 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter the reason that insurance companies intentionally delay claims when he wrote:
“If our premiums exceed the total of our expenses and eventual losses, our insurance operation registers an underwriting profit that adds to the investment income the float produces. When such a profit is earned, we enjoy the use of free money – and, better yet, get paid for holding it.”
Now, you know why insurance companies intentionally delay claims and delay paying claims settlements!
Investigating the Accident
A personal injury lawyer will start a personal injury claim by investigating the claim:
- Request a copy of an NYPD police report or Request a copy of a police report on Long Island to see how the police think the accident happened and also to provide a copy of the police report to the insurance company
- Obtain photos of the accident scene
- Obtain witness statements
- Determine how the accident really happened (we see many police reports that are obviously wrong)
- Identifying all the people and companies that may be responsible for causing your injury and
- Identifying all of their insurance companies
- Do an insurance search, if necessary
- Obtain the insurance policy declarations page showing the amount of insurance
- Do an asset search, if necessary.
Claim letters will be sent to every potential defendant and their insurance companies. There is a lot of other work that will also be done.
A Serious Injury Can Make a Personal Injury Settlement Fast
There is a lot of work that a personal injury lawyer will have to do, but the first thing that could delay or speed up a personal injury settlement is the type of injury.
It used to take us 2-3 months to get the hospital records, sometimes costing as much as $1,800, but using a recent federal law, we now get hospital records within 30 days of our request for a total of only $6.50.
When you have a broken bone or surgery at the time of your accident, the value of your injury will likely be more than the insurance policy, and we can usually force the insurance company to offer a fast settlement for the entire insurance policy.
If the insurance policy is much larger than the value of the injury, a lawsuit will usually be filed immediately, and a settlement will often, but not always, take longer.
A Large Insurance Policy Can Delay a Personal Injury Settlement
If there is a big insurance policy that is a lot larger than the value of the injury, the settlement of a personal injury case can be delayed for two reasons:
- The insurance company usually doesn’t want to settle early for the full value of your injury, so a lawsuit will be filed, which delays a personal injury settlement.
- If your medical treatment continues over a long time, that increases the value of personal injury settlement. If there is a large insurance policy, it may be beneficial not to take a fast settlement.
When someone has a neck or back injury, treatment is often provided over a long period of time and may result in surgery a year or two later. If the insurance policy is large enough, personal injury lawyers will often wait 6-12 months before trying to settle or file a lawsuit to see what will happen with the medical treatment and whether the client will need surgery.
We have had many cases where clients didn’t think they would get surgery, but a year or two later, they did, and the value of the case increased by nearly a million dollars.
Settlement Before Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Once the client has either finished receiving medical treatment or has received a sufficient amount of medical treatment, your personal injury lawyer will order the medical records from each hospital, doctor, radiology facility, and physical therapy facility. Employment records may also be requested.
A copy of your records will be sent to all defense insurance companies together with a claim letter outlining the liability of the defendants and either demand the entire insurance policy or another amount.
When the injury is worth more than the insurance policy limit, the case might be settled for the entire insurance policy before filing a lawsuit.
If the lawyer attempts to settle a neck or back injury case in the first few months, the insurance company may not offer any settlement or may offer only a few thousand dollars.
We have had clients with neck or back injuries that would have settled for $20,000-$45,000 within the first few months, but because we waited, our clients later had surgery, and their cases were settled for much more money.
In one case, our client, Catherine, had a previous existing neck injury with surgery. She had a second accident when she fell in a store and injured her neck again. If we had settled fast, the insurance company would have offered only a few thousand dollars.
But more than a year after the second accident, she had neck surgery again. We settled her case for the full $1 million insurance policy. During her personal injury case, the store went out of business; otherwise, we would have wanted to settle for more money.
Another case was settled for $750,000 where our client had lower back surgery more than a year after the accident. She also had a previous existing lower back injury with 10 years of prior treatment. Again, the insurance company would have offered only a few thousand dollars if we had settled earlier.
Do Insurance Companies Ever Refuse to Settle?
It is common for insurance companies to offer nothing or almost nothing before a lawsuit is filed or before a trial, even when it’s obvious that they will have to pay a lot of money at trial.
We have had many cases where the insurance company never made an offer 1) even though our client had serious injuries and 2) we won Summary Judgment which means that the court ruled that the defendant is 100% at fault and awards 9% interest on top of the judgment that a jury awards. In many of those cases, we obtained more than $1 million.
If a personal injury case cannot be settled, a lawsuit will be started. Depending upon numerous factors, lawsuits are usually filed within 3-18 months after the accident.
The Personal Injury Lawsuit
A lawsuit for personal injury is started by purchasing an Index number and filing a Summons and Complaint against all defendants.
A Summons and Complaint will make numerous legal allegations about the accident, negligence of the defendant(s), and the injuries.
Copies of the Summons and Complaint are sent to a process server to serve all the defendants. It usually takes a couple of weeks for the process server to serve all the defendants.
Once the defendants are served with the Summons and Complaint, the defendant’s insurance company will hire a defense lawyer to represent each defendant.
The defense lawyer will serve a legal document called an Answer, usually within 2-4 weeks after the Summons and Complaint are served. The Answer will deny almost everything alleged in the Summons and Complaint.
The most important thing we look for in the Answer is that the defendants admit ownership and maintenance of the property or ownership and operation of the vehicle involved in the accident.
After the Answer is filed, the Discovery phase begins. Discovery is the process during which each side is allowed to discover the information known to the other side. In New York, the Discovery phase usually takes 12-24 months.
- A lot of papers and information are exchanged between both sides;
- Several court conferences are attended (only by the lawyers);
- Testimony is given by both sides at a deposition; and
- A physical exam of the injured plaintiff by the defendant’s doctor is conducted within 60-120 days after the deposition.
A deposition is where the attorney for one party asks questions of the other party. The questions and answers are recorded by a court reporter. Read more about how the depositions are conducted and how we prepare you for your deposition.
Most lawyers try to schedule the deposition testimony of both sides on the same day, but we have found there really is no advantage to this. The disadvantage is that it usually causes delays of 6-12 months when the defense attorney claims their client isn’t available.
To avoid this delay, we often have our client testify even if the defendant is not ready. This forces the defendant to stop delaying tactics. Once your deposition is completed, the defense doesn’t want to explain to the judge why the defendant didn’t appear at a deposition.
Defense Medical Exam
After the plaintiff has testified at a deposition, the plaintiff will be examined by the defendant’s insurance company doctor or doctors. The most common medical exams conducted by the defense are Orthopedic and Neurology.
How Much Work Goes into a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
This is the size of the paper file in a case that went to trial – it weighed 60 pounds!
We are now a “paperless” office, so every paper is scanned and stored in our computer server and backed up. Before trial, many of the papers are printed to make it easier to prepare for trial. After the trial, they are shredded. We don’t charge for computer storage and backup, copying, shredding, and many other expenses! See our Simple Fee Guarantee™
Do I Need to Spend a Lot of Time on My Personal Injury Case or Lawsuit?
Q. If my lawyer has so much paperwork and many court appearances, do I have to spend much time being involved with my personal injury case or lawsuit?
A. No. Other than the time to see your doctors, you will not have to spend much time being involved with your lawsuit.
In fact, you will spend more time dealing with your accident without a lawyer than you will if we represent you. That’s because we fill out many of the forms that you would have to fill out without a lawyer, and we take care of problems that you would have to deal with, such as getting medical bills paid.
If your personal injury case is settled before a lawsuit is started, you will not need to spend any real time to be involved with your case.
If your personal injury case cannot be settled and a lawsuit is started, you will not appear at the court conferences. Only the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant will appear at the many court conferences.
How Much Time Do I Need to Spend on My Personal Injury Case or Lawsuit?
If your personal injury case has not been settled and a lawsuit must be filed, the time you will need to spend on your personal injury lawsuit will be:
- 3 hours to prepare you for your deposition
- 2-5 hours for your deposition, and
- 1 hour in the waiting room for the defense medical exam, which usually is done in five minutes.
If your case still is not settled by the time it goes to trial, your trial will likely take anywhere from 3-10 days.
Waiting for a Trial Date After Your Personal Injury Case Is Finished
After your medical exam by the insurance company doctor, there will be one or more court conferences where your attorney will seek a court order allowing your accident case to be certified as ready to be placed on the court’s trial calendar. Your case must be finished before being allowed to be placed on the court’s trial calendar.
It is now approximately 18 months-3 years after your accident. When your case is placed on the court’s trial calendar, the court issues a trial calendar number, just like taking a number at the DMV.
Under certain circumstances, such as if you are 70 years old or have a terminal illness, you will be entitled to a “special preference,” which will put your case at the top of the trial calendar. If you are entitled to a special preference, your case can go to trial within a couple of months.
The purpose of placing your case on the court’s trial calendar is to wait and wait and wait for the court to have a judge, courtroom, and jury available for your case.
We have to wait in line, similar to waiting at the DMV. At the DMV, you take a number and sit down until you are called two hours later. But waiting online for a trial date is much longer than waiting at the DMV!
How Long Is a Personal Injury Case on the Court’s Trial Calendar?
Once a personal injury case is placed on the court’s trial calendar, it typically takes 18-24 months before the trial is held.
While we are waiting, we have to come to court a dozen times or more to say we are ready to try your case.
This allows the court to make sure that everyone is alive and that the case hasn’t been settled. Each time we come to court, we sit in a large room and wait a couple of hours, just like in the video below!
This Could Be the Trial Assignment Part with Attorneys Waiting to Be Called for Trial!
Why Does It Take So Long for the Court to Give You a Trial Date?
Trials usually tie up a courtroom and judge for 1-2 weeks, so with all kinds of trials going on, it takes a long time because the court needs a courtroom, a judge, and a jury to give you a personal injury trial.
Personal injury trials go to the back of the line. Other trials, such as commercial litigation and divorce, get priority and go to the front of the line.
With personal injury trials going to the back of the line, you’ll wait 18-24 months.
But, as mentioned before, if you are entitled to a Special Preference because you are 70 years old or have a terminal illness, your case will go to the top of the trial calendar and can go to trial within a couple of months.
Why are Court Cases in New York Taking Longer Than Usual?
Because of the pandemic, the courts were closed for two years.
Before the pandemic, there was a huge backlog of cases causing years of delay in getting cases to trial when the parties didn’t want to settle. Now, the pandemic has substantially added to that backlog, and although the courts are now open, there are still delays because of people getting COVID.
The cases added to the court calendars because of the pandemic are expected to cause years of further delays nationwide and in New York. See a CBS article and video about the delays in the criminal courts and what New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is trying to do to reduce the delays. Although the article is about delays in criminal courts, the delays are also in the courts that have jurisdiction over personal injury cases.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul discusses plan to fix criminal court backlog
How to Find the Status of Your Personal Injury Case in New York
If you want to see how your New York personal injury case is progressing through the New York State Supreme Court, you can search for your case for free on elaw.com or Find New York State Civil Supreme Court cases on the NYS Supreme Court website.
On the NYS Supreme Court website, you can also see all the documents filed in your personal injury case. The documents are a public record and available for anyone to see. The NYS Supreme Court requires your date of birth and social security number to be redacted (unreadable). It is important that your personal injury lawyer knows how to redact documents the proper way.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Personal Injury Settlement Check?
Our clients usually receive their settlement check within 2-4 weeks after a personal injury settlement, but it can take a little longer if there are liens or New York City is a defendant. For more detailed information, see our article How long does it take to get my settlement check after settling my accident case?
How Long Did the Longest Personal Injury Lawsuit in the US Take?
The oldest-longest-running lawsuit in the country is a discrimination case. The case is 53 years old and was finally settled, sort of. Well, it’s not quite finished! U.S. District Judge Marvin Aspen approved a settlement allowing the Chicago Housing Authority to finish the 53-year-old case by July 2024.
The lengthy lawsuit was a class action that alleged the Housing Authority discriminated against lower-income, African-American residents by denying them access to better-resourced, white communities.
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Philip L. Franckel, Esq. is one of the HURT911® Dream Team™ Founding Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York; He has a 10 Avvo rating; Avvo Client’s Choice with all 5-star reviews; Avvo Top Contributor; and a former Member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.
Robert Plevy, Esq. is one of the HURT911® Dream Team™ Founding Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York. Rob began his legal career in 1993 as an Assistant Corporation Counsel defending The City of New York against personal injury lawsuits.