This is unusually one of the first questions that come up with a new or potential client. The short answer is that personal injury cases can take a long time. There are a number of reasons for this. Some are within the attorney’s control and others are not.
The most important factor in any personal injury claim is injuries. The degree and nature of your injuries, in the absence of abusive insurance company tactics or other such obstacles, will be the chief determinant of how long it takes your case to settle.
Before an attorney can or should even begin to contemplate settlement, the full extent of your recoverable damages should be determined. Damages are the losses that you have suffered from the accident. There are several elements of damages beyond the actual physical injuries but the physical injuries in most cases will serve as the baseline for all other damages.
As such, the first and most important element of damages is medical expense (both past and future) associated with your injuries. These are the medical expenses associated with treatment for your injuries. These are in large degree a measure of your physical injuries and damages. However, they are not the full measure.
In many personal injury cases, medical treatment does not completely correct the physical injuries. In these cases, the injuries are permanent. It may take many months or even years of physical therapy, rehabilitation, surgery and other treatment before it is known for certain that the injuries are permanent. This delay in determining the degree of physical injuries will above all else delay settlement.
The delay can and often is worsened by a lack of insurance. Where there is no insurance, it is often possible to get a letter of protection for medical providers for some types of treatment. In cases of very serious injuries requiring specialized care, it is far more difficult. For instance, orthopedic care is most frequently required in personal injury cases and at least in New Mexico, orthopedic doctors do not as a rule accept letters of protection.
This can lead to a Catch 22 situation where you do not want to settle your case without knowing the full extent of your injuries but at the same time cannot get the medical care, treatment and diagnostics necessary to make the determination. For example, it may be clear that you need surgery for an injury for an injury but you cannot get the surgery without the settlement due to lack of insurance.
In these cases, your personal injury settlement demand package will reflect the fact that you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). The settlement demand will factor in the future costs of surgery or surgeries, the risks of surgery, the success rates of that type of surgery, possible individual complications to you personally and so on. The problem is that not everything goes as planned and sometimes despite the best efforts at predicting the outcome; things turn out worse than expected.
There are too many individual variables to medical treatment and damages to cover it all here. If you are in this situation, there is no substitute for the guidance of an experienced attorney. Having said that, suffice it to say that medical care and recovery usually present the greatest challenge and consequent delays in settlement.
And even once you have them nailed down, you are not done. You have in most cases just set the baseline for the calculation of other damages such as lost income, pain and suffering, and so on. These are topics for another FAQ.