Typical Personal Injury Claim Timeline: How Long Does it Take to Get a Settlement?

See how long it should take to get a fair personal injury settlement. Follow the process from the injury date through settlement or jury trial.

Most injury claims are paid by the at-fault party’s insurance carrier. Claims against auto insurance, homeowner’s insurance, property liability coverage, or malpractice insurance typically follow a similar timeline. Review the steps of the personal injury claim and settlement process here.

Minor to moderate injury claims can settle within a few months. Serious injury claims might take years. The amount of time will vary depending on the severity of your injuries and if your claim turns into an injury lawsuit.

Typical Personal Injury Claim Timeline:

  1. Injury Accident or Incident Occurs
  2. Establish the Scope of Your Injuries
  3. Begin Gathering Critical Evidence
  4. Consult a Personal Injury Lawyer
  5. Notify Relevant Insurance Companies
  6. Negotiate a Fair Injury Settlement
  7. File a Lawsuit Against the At-Fault Party
  8. Conduct Litigation Discovery
  9. Engage in Court-Ordered Mediation
  10. Conclude Your Injury Case at Trial

Bonus: Tracking Progress on Your Case

1. Injury Accident or Incident Occurs

The clock starts ticking on your personal injury claim on the day your injuries occur. Each state has a statute of limitations for injury cases. If you don’t settle your claim or file a lawsuit before the deadline, you lose your right to pursue compensation.

Most states allow one or two years. However, if your claim is against a government agency or employee, you may only have a few months to file a claim.

The statute of limitations begins running the day of your injury or when you learn of your injury.

In a car accident, slip and fall, or dog attack situation, you know exactly when you were harmed. You can prove the event happened by calling 911 to report motor vehicle accidents or dog bites. If you are injured at a restaurant, store, or any other place open to the public, report the event to the manager and ask for a copy of the incident report.

In some situations, like medical malpractice, toxic exposure, or defective devices, the statute starts running when you learn what caused the harm you suffered. Your medical records will detail your diagnosis.

2. Establish the Scope of Your Injuries

Seek medical attention the same day as your injuries. Follow your medical care providers’ advice. Doctors can often evaluate the scope of your injuries right away. Some types of injuries, like traumatic brain injuries, may take months to determine the full extent of the injuries and the likelihood of permanent impairment.

Without prompt medical treatment, you have no basis for a personal injury claim. Refusing medical care at the scene, or delaying treatment can sink your insurance claim. The insurance company will say you weren’t injured at all, or that your injuries were not caused by the claimed incident.

Tell every medical care provider exactly when and how you were injured. Your medical records must clearly link your injuries to the incident.

Insurance companies only have to pay for reasonable medical costs. Avoid “accident doctors” who run up high bills with excessive testing and questionable treatments. Most insurers are reluctant to pay for extensive chiropractic treatments, and will deny payment for alternative therapies.

3. Begin Gathering Critical Evidence

Start gathering evidence at the scene of your injury, if you safely can. Continue to collect evidence throughout your treatment and recovery, until your case is settled.

Evidence to help your claim includes:

  • Photographs and video
  • Witness statements
  • Medical bills and records
  • Lost wage verification
  • Your injury notes

Some types of evidence can only be obtained by an attorney during the discovery phase of litigation.

4. Consult a Personal Injury Lawyer

Before deciding to handle an injury claim on your own, you owe it to yourself to consult a personal injury attorney. There is no cost and no obligation to get some solid legal advice.

Most injury attorneys offer a free consultation to injury victims and are willing to work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only collect legal fees if they settle your claim or win your case in court.

Serious injury claims should always be handled by an experienced attorney. With minor injury claims, it doesn’t hurt to get a free case evaluation before you get started.

5. Notify Relevant Insurance Companies

As soon as possible after an injury, put the at-fault party’s insurance company on notice of your intent to file an injury claim. You don’t have to wait until you’re ready to discuss settlement.

If you’ve been in a car crash, notify your own insurance company, too. Most auto accident policies have a “notice and cooperation” clause requiring policyholders to let them know about any vehicle collisions, even if it’s not your fault.

If you are represented by an attorney, they will identify and notify all applicable insurance carriers.

6. Negotiate a Fair Injury Settlement

If you’ve completely recovered from relatively mild injuries, you can probably negotiate a fair personal injury settlement without a lawyer, if you’re willing to put in the time to prepare. After your initial demand, a few rounds of counter-offers should only take a few weeks before you reach a compromised settlement.

Most injury claims are settled within a few weeks or months of the injury occurrence.

A faster settlement is more likely when:

  • Liability is uncontested
  • Your damages are well documented
  • You’re asking for a reasonable amount of compensation

Settlement negotiations can drag on or fail altogether when the adjuster won’t come off a lowball settlement offer. Often, all it takes is hiring an accident lawyer to get the insurance adjuster to offer a fair settlement amount.

Complicated or contested claims are more likely to lead to litigation.

7. File a Personal Injury Lawsuit Against the At-Fault Party

Although it’s the insurance company that refused to settle, you won’t sue the company. Your lawsuit will name the at-fault party or parties.

Injury claims against doctors, hospitals, drug manufacturers, and big corporations like Walmart almost always require hiring an experienced attorney and filing a lawsuit to get fair compensation for the injury victim.

Malpractice insurance companies and big corporations have aggressive legal teams to defend against injury claims.

Even when you aren’t suing a corporate giant, you’ll need an attorney to handle complicated injury claims.

Factors that complicate claims include:

  • High-dollar claim value of severe injuries
  • Allegations of shared blame
  • Multiple injury victims from the same event or cause
  • Multiple at-fault parties trying to shift blame

According to the Department of Justice, the average lawsuit takes about 1.5 years to conclude, but only 3 percent are concluded at trial.

8. Conduct Litigation Discovery

The discovery process allows each side to seek information they will need to help build a strong case for trial. In litigation discovery, your attorney can seek information from the at-fault party that would be hard for you to get on your own.

The discovery phase of litigation is usually finished in less than six months. Class actions and other high-stake cases may have longer discovery time limits, depending on the complexity of the case.

Discovery usually involves:

  • Depositions: The parties and witnesses are asked questions under oath. The question and answer session is transcribed by a court reporter and may also be recorded on video.
  • Interrogatories: Written questions about the facts of the case and other information.
  • Requests for Production of Documents: A subpoena is issued to seek key evidence, such as cell phone records, company emails, manufacturer’s designs, and other relevant documents or electronic records.

9. Engage in Court-Ordered Mediation

Most state and federal courts require the parties to attempt settlement through mediation before trial. Mediators are often attorneys or retired judges who will listen to both sides and try to get the parties to agree to a settlement.

Usually, both sides exchange a list of mediators until one is chosen that is satisfactory to both parties. The cost of the mediator is shared.

Mediation is not binding. The mediator doesn’t decide who wins, although they will tell you if they think your case isn’t very strong. If the case doesn’t settle at mediation, the parties proceed to trial.

10. Conclude Your Injury Case at Trial

Very few personal injury cases make it all the way through trial to a jury verdict. By the time an injury case goes to trial, both parties have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of their case.

Most injury cases settle out of court, many within hours of the trial starting. There are reasons why cases settle “on the courthouse steps.”

It’s important to carefully consider your attorney’s advice about settlement, even when you have a very strong case. Once your case is settled, there’s no appeal. You take your share of the settlement money and go home.

Proceeding to trial can be risky. For one thing, you never know what a jury will do. And even if you win, you might not get as much as the other side offered to settle before the trial started.

Or, you might win big. If you win a very large jury award, the other side will almost always file an appeal. Appeals are expensive, and even if you win on appeal, you can add another year or two to the time it takes to get your compensation.

Occasionally, after a trial, the losing side may ask you to take less than your jury award in exchange for a promise not to appeal. Discuss the options with your attorney to decide what’s best for you.

Bonus: Tracking Progress on Your Case

Before signing a fee agreement on a personal injury case, be clear on how your attorney will keep you informed of the status of your case. Discuss exactly what “good communication” looks like for you.

For example, you might request weekly or bi-weekly calls, letters, or e-mails with a status update, even if the status has not changed. Updates from a paralegal are acceptable, so long as you get your questions answered. You always want to be contacted immediately when a decision needs to be made, for example, if the insurance company makes a settlement offer.

It’s easy to follow the progress of your case with this printable Claim Status Log sheet.

Keep in mind, if you don’t have a contingency fee agreement, you’ll be billed hourly for any communications you have with the attorney or paralegal. Charges for weekly calls, letters, or e-mails can add up in the long run.

Clarifying the method and frequency of communication in personal injury cases has another benefit. If you know you’ll be hearing from your attorney consistently, you’ll be less stressed and more comfortable with the progress of your case.

Dealing with legal issues in a personal injury claim can be stressful. With an attorney helping you every step of the way, you don’t have to tackle difficult issues on your own.

The best attorney-client relationships start with good communication. Speak up, ask questions, and know what to expect while your attorney fights for you.

Personal Injury Claim Timeline Questions

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>