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How long does the average personal injury claim take?

By Beth Gibson on February 20, 2019

If you were injured in an accident and want to file a personal injury lawsuit, you’re probably wondering how long it will take to get the compensation you deserve. In a recent interview, Ken Gibson and John Singleton tackled that question.

Ken: “Often, clients want to know how long their personal injury case will take. In Virginia, the statute of limitations is two years. That means an attorney has two years from the date of the injury to file a case, though there are some exceptions to that.

“What we want is to have our clients focus on getting better. We don’t want to settle a case or take a case to trial until a client is at what’s called their ‘maximum medical improvement,’ where they’re as good as they’re going to be. Hopefully, they’re back to 100 percent, but at some point, the doctor’s going to give us an opinion that, medically, the client is as good as they’re going to get.

“Then we’re able to make decision and begin negotiating the case with the insurance company. If we’re able to negotiate a good and fair settlement, we can go ahead and do that. If the insurance company is lowballing the case, then we’ve got the option of filing a lawsuit and going to trial.”

What types of courts could hear my case, and how could that affect the timeframe?

Ken: “In Virginia, there are two trial courts. There’s the general district court for cases that are $25,000 and under; there’s the circuit court for all cases $25,000 and over. So that’s really going to affect the timeframe of how long a personal injury case is going to take.

“If it’s a $25,000 or less case, based on the medical bills and the lost wages and the extent of the injury, then that’s a more streamlined process. We usually can get to trial in four to six months in a general district court case, after our client gets better.

“In a circuit court case, it can go longer, because the litigation process is longer. Also, it takes a little bit longer to get a trial date. We have depositions, we have discovery—which is the exchange of information between both sides—so a case in the circuit court could be one to two years, depending on how quickly our client recovers and how quickly the litigation process goes.

Mentally, how long should I prepare for my case to last?

Ken: “What we tell our clients is: ‘You’ve got to be prepared for the long haul. You’ve got to be prepared for the unexpected.

“The insurance companies don’t want to settle these cases quickly. They want to drag it out; they want to conduct a kind of ‘war of attrition.’ They want to wear you down so that you throw up your hands and say: ‘I’m tired of this, I want this case to end, go ahead and settle it. I know it’s not what I deserve, but go ahead and settle it because I just can’t take the invasiveness of this process anymore.’

“Part of our role is to encourage our clients to keep moving forward, because that’s the way that we’re going to get them the full value of their case.”

John, what is your take on the typical timeframe of a personal injury case?

John: “A case does not have a typical time. Every case is atypical, because it’s personal to you. So, the case starts from the moment the injury happens, whatever it is. In a car wreck case, it starts with you going to the emergency room, and includes all your follow-up treatment.

“And, when you come see us, if you haven’t done it already, one of the first things we’re going to do is notify the insurance company that we represent you. We’re going to notify the at-fault party’s insurance company, or the at-fault party, if we don’t know who their insurance company is. We’re going to request the police crash report. That usually takes about 10 days. If it’s over in the city, it might be 30 days. It could take fewer days.

“If it’s a wrongful death case, the state police—it doesn’t matter if you’re in Virginia, New Jersey, Oklahoma, or California—the state police investigation can take 60 to 120 days.”

If I’m injured in a car wreck, what should I expect in terms of recovery?

John: “If you’ve been injured in a car wreck, you’re at minimum going to have about six weeks of treatment. You have your emergency room visit, then there’s the follow-up with your family doctor. They’re likely going to say, ‘Why don’t you rest for a week?’ or ‘Let’s go take some more X-rays, CT-scans.’ That takes another week or two.

“Then they’re probably going to send you to physical therapy. If you have a more serious injury, they’re going to want you on to have an MRI or a CAT scan, then go to see an orthopedic specialist. If you’ve injured your back, you might have to go see a neurologist. Again, two weeks, 30 days, to get that appointment. If you have suffered a severe injury, you might need three months for treatment.”

If I’m injured, but didn’t break any bones, will the timeframe be shorter?

John: “In the insurance company’s mind, a person who’s suffered a soft-tissue injury—meaning they haven’t broken any bones, haven’t fractured or herniated any discs—should be back to normal in just six weeks.

“So let’s say that’s what it is. Well, at the end of those six weeks, we’re going to go out and start collecting all your medical records and bills. Thirty days, minimum, to get those records and bills. We’re going to put all that together into a demand package, send that to the insurance company, and try to resolve your case.”

How quickly will the insurance company respond to requests for payment?

John: “Insurance companies in Virginia are not really under a deadline. In some states, they’re under a deadline—they have to respond meaningfully in 15 days. But in Virginia, they don’t have that requirement. Ninety days is probably the average for an insurance company to respond. If anybody tells you, ‘We’re going to get your money for you right away,’ it’s not true.”

What if my injury is very serious, such as a brain injury?

John: “In more serious cases, such as with traumatic brain injuries, it can take months, sometimes years, because we want to know where you are in the recovery spectrum. If you have a bad, traumatic brain injury, or if you have a bad fracture—say, you’ve broken your femur in two or three places—we want to know you have healed as much as possible. We do that because we want to present to the insurance company a complete case, a complete picture of what’s happened to you. This is so they can’t say, ‘Oh, here’s $5,000, have a nice day, everything will be fine,’ when your case might be worth 10 times that.

“Sometimes, we’ve got to wait out the entire two-year statute of limitations, then file suit while you’re still being treated.”

And how does the court where my case is heard affect the timeframe?

John: “Again, once you file suit, it depends which court you’re in. If you’re in general district court, maybe you have a trial within 90 days. If you’re in circuit court, it might be six or eight months before you get a trial. If you’re in Newport News or up in Fairfax, you might have to wait a year before you even get a trial date!

“So there’s no easy answer as to how long a case will take. The fact is, every case is specific, and it all relates to when you are done with treatment, and where that falls within the two-year statute of limitations.”

The important takeaway from Ken and John’s comments is that you should leave the details of your case to your attorneys—your job is to concentrate on healing. If you or a loved has been injured and believe you may have a personal injury claim, call GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys for a free case evaluation at (804) 413-6777.

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Community service

Prevention, empathy, and diligence are hallmarks of everything we do at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys. Our community can see these ideals lived out in our work to prevent personal injuries from happening.

  • Safety Education
    GibsonSingleton launches a “Texts=Wrecks” campaign to reduce the number of people injured or killed by distracted drivers.
  • Annual Coat Drive
    During the fall, our team works to distribute coats to people in need in our community.
  • Hands-on Service
    John and Ken join the Gloucester Point Rotary Club in cleaning up the community.
  • Supporting Local Schools
    The Gibson family participates in Gloucester’s Botetourt Elementary Shuffle fundraiser.