At Gilbert & Greif, P.A., we try our best to produce excellent results in a timely manner. However, as anyone who has been involved in civil litigation can attest, more often than not, positive results take a lot of time.
The process of getting to trial itself can be long and arduous. Unfortunately, movies and television tend to skip all of the pretrial work of collecting records and deposing witnesses, which sometimes gives people the impression that their real life legal issue will be resolved within a month or two. Further extending the timetable are courts that can be clogged with a backlog of civil cases, making a trial date seem like a very distant goal. These disappointments are exacerbated when a client is behind on bills, in pain, and counting on a settlement or a judgment to make them whole.
Let's take for instance, someone who has been injured in an accident. A personal injury client may have been through months of rehabilitation and has racked up thousands of dollars of medical bills, which may or may not have been paid. Perhaps that individual is now unable to work. More often than not, these types of cases take time to resolve. An attorney almost always has to wait until the client has "finished treating" or "reached a medical endpoint" before negotiating with an insurance company. After all, it makes little sense to settle a claim if there will be future medical bills or treatment because settlement is usually conditioned upon the client giving up all claims that arose, or could have arisen, from the accident. In other words, you only get one "bite at the apple."
When a client has finished treating, typically a "demand letter" is sent to the insurance company for the opposing party that demands a particular amount of money in exchange for settlement of the claim. At this point, some cases settle quickly. However, because insurance companies do not typically pay claims quickly (especially large ones), the negotiation process often takes time. If the insurance company denies the claim or a settlement cannot be reached, then a lawsuit is typically filed against the opposing party. As mentioned above, the pretrial process takes months or, in some cases, even years.
So, what can a personal injury client do when dealing with this long road of litigation? Here are a few thoughts:
- Keep some sort of record about the accident as you remember it shortly after it happens. As time goes by, memories tend to fade. Even though accidents are often memorable events, details can be elusive if you have to testify about them years later.
- Mentally prepare yourself for the time it takes to get a case resolved. I have found that a client’s knowledge of a potential timeline for the resolution of a case helps to relieve him or her of the anxiety and uncertainty that sometimes accompanies litigation.
- Do the best you can to prepare yourself financially for the time it takes to settle a case. If you can, try to live day to day without counting on the money from a potential settlement. While a whole industry has arisen to provide people with advance funding for a potential settlement, the interest rates that these companies charge can be steep. This makes an advance a potentially costly wager when the case could take a long time to resolve.
Even if the road to resolving a personal injury case is long, clients often find that their settlement or judgment is worth the wait.