A personal injury lawsuit can be a long process, especially if the case goes to court, where lawsuits can take two years or longer before being resolved.

There are numerous steps required to bring a personal injury lawsuit to a resolution. Below you’ll find descriptions of each step in the timeline of a personal injury lawsuit.

Steps of the Timeline:

01

Recovery + Hiring of Attorney

Time frame: 0 – 6 months after accident

During this time, the victim is recovering from the accident and makes the decision to hire an attorney. He or she will likely consult with several attorneys before choosing one. This process can take a few days or a few months.

02

Accident Investigation

Time frame: 0 – 6 months after accident

During this stage, the attorney will discuss with you the facts of the case. It’s important that you be honest and upfront from the beginning. If you lie, the lawyer on the opposing side will find out. Your lawyer will investigate all the aspects of the case. He or she will look at police reports and other documents. Your lawyer will also talk to witnesses and others involved in the accident in order to build a case.

03

Settlement Negotiations

Time frame: Ongoing after accident

The insurance company will contact the victim to settle the case. The lawyer will negotiate with the insurance company. If the settlement amount is adequate, the case could potentially end here. However, if the victim suffered a disability or other lifelong injury, it’s best to take the case to court. The court can judge the actual impact of the accident. A verdict could result in a significantly higher amount of compensation for damages.

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04

Lawsuit Preparations

Time frame: 0-6 months after accident

If the insurance company is unwilling to budge on its settlement offer, then the lawyer will proceed with final preparations of the lawsuit.

05

Lawsuit Filed

Time frame: 0-1 month after low settlement offer

At this point, the lawsuit is filed in the appropriate court and the defendant is served papers within 60 days of the filing.

Days
06

Defendant Responds

Time frame: 30-45 days after lawsuit filed

Once served with the papers, the defendant is given 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. In some cases, they may ask for an extension.

07+08

Written Questions

Time frame: 60-95 days after lawsuit filed

This begins the discovery process. During this stage, the parties have the opportunity to send questions to each other. They are given 35 days to respond to the questions.

09+10

Medical Exam by the Defense

Time frame: 0-6 months after lawsuit filed

The defense may ask the victim to submit to a medical examination performed by a doctor of their choice. These are also called Independent Medical Exams and involve an interview and medical exam. The victim will usually agree, but should have his or her own attorney present, since these exams are biased toward the defense.

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Your lawyer should help you prepare for this exam. Make a list of your symptoms, medications and treatment. Be prepared to discuss specifics about how the accident has affected you physically and mentally. If you have had any prior accidents, be sure to note those.

You should be as detailed as possible, as this will bolster your case. At the same time, be honest. Do not exaggerate or try to hide anything.

11

Oral Depositions

Time frame: 3-6 months after written responses to questions

These are like a trial, but less formal. They do, however, require extensive preparations, as they are considered part of the pre-trial discovery process. All the key people involved will need to be present at the court. The attorneys will ask questions of either side to get their versions of what happened. Any statements made at the deposition can be used at the trial. Remember that you are under oath, so you cannot lie in court.

The purpose of the depositions is to ensure there are no surprises when it comes time to take the case to trial. If a statement made at the deposition does not match the statement made in court, the person is lying and can be charged with perjury. Perjury is a serious crime that can result in imprisonment.

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12+13

Hiring Expert Witnesses + Investigations

Time frame: 3-6 months after lawsuit filed

If the case has not settled by now, both sides have the opportunity to hire expert witnesses. They will investigate the facts of the case and present their findings.

Expert witnesses have experience in the field and can help a victim prove his or her case. The type of witness used will depend on the type of accident. If the victim was injured in a car accident, the lawyer may hire a car crash reconstructionist expert to show how and why the car crashed and why the victim was not at fault. If the injury was caused by medical malpractice, the lawyer can hire a doctor who practices in the same field as the defendant and show that the doctor was performing a substandard level of care and this caused the injury.

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14+15

Disclosure of Expert Witnesses

Time frame: 6-8 months after lawsuit filed

At this point, both sides reveal the names of their expert witnesses and what their testimony will be about.

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16

Depositions of Expert Witnesses

Time frame: 6-10 months after lawsuit filed

Another deposition will take place. This time, the lawyers can ask questions of the expert witness from the other side.

17

Mediation

Time frame: 6-15 months after lawsuit filed

By this time, the personal injury claim process has gone on for possibly more than one year, maybe even 18 months. One side may be trying to avoid a trial or simply want the process to end. If negotiations have been unsuccessful thus far, the court may require mediation. This is the last chance the parties will have to resolve the case before going to court.

In mediation, a mediator—often a retired judge or someone in the legal field—acts as a neutral third party.

Mediation is an all-day event that can take one or two days. If an agreement is still not reached by then, the case will proceed to trial.

This is also called the alternative dispute resolution stage, and may lead to a settlement. This means that if everything is successful, the claims process would end and you would not have to worry about a trial.

Trial Process
18

Trial

Time frame: 2+ years after lawsuit filed

If mediation was unsuccessful, the case goes to court. All parties involved in the case must be present at the trial. A jury will be present to review the evidence and interrogations and determine of whom the judge should rule in favor.

A trial typically takes anywhere from several days to a couple weeks. A more complex case could take two months, however. Once both sides have stated their evidence and arguments, the jury makes a decision. This can take a few hours or a few days, as every member of the jury has to agree on the verdict.

19

Disbursement of Compensation

Time frame: 2+ years after lawsuit filed

The final step is to receive money for damages. If the victim is entitled to compensation either through mediation or a jury verdict, he or she should respect to receive financial recovery within 30 days of the ruling.

Upon a successful verdict, your lawyer needs to be paid for his or her time and effort in helping you win. Personal injury lawyers pay for everything upfront, including investigations and expert witnesses.

They typically are paid on a contingency basis, which means that they are paid only if you win. If you win, they will take a percentage of your award amount. This percentage varies from lawyer to lawyer, but typically ranges from 30 to 40 percent.