If you have been injured because of someone else’s fault, you have every right to commence a lawsuit and fight for fair and reasonable compensation for your losses, damages and pain and suffering. A personal injury lawyer can be a valuable resource to turn to if you have questions about commencing a lawsuit or how to go about reaching an out of court settlement of your claims. A personal injury lawyer can provide you with an assessment and estimate of what your case may be worth and then work towards obtaining an out of court settlement for you. As personal injury lawyers, we are trained in alternate dispute resolution techniques which includes settlement negotiations.
The length of time it takes obtain a fair settlement in a personal injury case depends on the particular facts of each case. This article focuses on cases that do not go to Court and are settled outside of the court process.
For more complicated cases with several injuries and/or long term consequences such as permanent disability, it will take longer to settle the case than the typical straightforward single fractured limb or minor injury case that heals in 4 to 8 months.
These are some of the usual steps taken in a personal injury case and some of the factors that are to be considered when estimating the amount of time a settlement will be obtained:
Steps in a typical personal injury case
1. Initial call to a personal injury lawyer to set up a meeting to discuss the case.
2. Initial meeting with a personal injury lawyer to discuss the facts of the case, the legal principles applicable to your case and an assessment is completed of your rights and interests. Although we conduct an in depth interview at the initial meeting, we will obtain more detailed information as the case progresses.3. If the case is sound, the lawyer is retained in writing, usually on a contingency fee basis where the lawyer is paid only if he recovers a settlement for you. The lawyer will formally open a file at the law firm.
4. We will begin by organizing the file and the facts that we have obtained and we will begin preparing as if your case was going to proceed to trial. We prepare each file as if it was going to trial, even though approximately 95% of all cases are settled short of an actual trial occurring. We do this so that we do not miss any relevant information or issues on your case. At Quinn Thiele Mineault Grodzki LLP, we tale no short cuts.
5. The lawyer writes and delivers a formal “notice” letter to the person or persons who caused your injuries. These persons are called “tortfeasors”. That letter politely provides notice of your intention to sue the tortfeasors unless reasonable compensation is paid as a result of the injuries you sustained.
6. The tortfeasors will send the notice letter to their insurer who will appoint a lawyer or an insurance adjuster to take over carriage of the claim, investigate the claim and hopefully settle it.
7. The lawyer or insurance adjuster will contact your lawyer advising that they have carriage of the personal injury case and will want to arrange for a meeting with you and your lawyer. That meeting takes place at your lawyer’s office (unless you are unable to travel due to medical reasons in which case, the meeting can be held at your home). The purposes of the meeting are for the insurance adjuster to assess your credibility, obtain your version of the events and to discuss the progress of the file, such as obtaining medical documents and other documents supporting your claims such as income tax returns, medical receipts etc…
8. In some cases, the insurance adjuster may want you to see doctors they hire to complete an independent assessment. These are called independent medical examination or defence medicals.
9. As you recover, we write to the hospitals you attended and to the treating physicians who cared for you, notify them that we have been retained as your personal injury lawyers and ask for copies of their entire files. We ask your physicians not to disclose information to any third parties. We also hire experts that are needed to support your claims such as actuarial consultants to prepare loss of income reports, doctors to provide medical reports and accountants, etc… The medical reports we seek are highly specialized and answer specific medical legal questions and addresses specific medical issues.
10. If necessary, and after discussion with you, a private investigator may be hired to assist us in gathering information and witness statements.
11. We consult with you throughout the process to obtain information on how the injuries affected you personally and changed your life and also how it affected members of your family.
12. We also contact witnesses and obtain witness statements.
13. We also attend the scene of the accident and take photographs of the scene, if needed.
14. In many cases, we also take photographs of your injuries.
15. Your personal injury case should be settled until you have reached maximum medical recovery or what we call in the industry “crystallization” of your injuries, all investigation has been completed and all relevant medical documents and other supporting documents have been obtained.
16. It may be impossible to obtain all the necessary medical information because your health care providers are unable to provide answers to many questions we have until your treatment has been completed. In this case, we have to wait to receive a final medical report from your health care providers who can provide us with a professional opinion about your medical condition and possible future medical treatment and expenses.
17. Once you have reached a point where you are fully recovered or have reached maximum medical recovery or what we call in the industry “crystallization” of your injuries, we start determining more specifically the values of your claims. Crystallization means that you will not get any better or worse medically speaking than the status at that point in your recovery.
18. As soon as the investigation has been completed, all necessary medical information is obtained and we have received all of the supporting documents (medical reports, expert reports, test results, income information, out of pocket expense documents, impact statements, photographs, witness statements, etc…), we will complete a full evaluation of your case. We explain our assessment to you and we never settle your case without your consent.
19. As part of the assessment, we complete comprehensive legal research researching all aspects of your case and review what we believe a Court would award if your case went to a trial and you won. This is an assessment of the value or quantum of your claims.
20. We then prepare a comprehensive settlement brief which includes all the material facts of the incident, the impact of the incident on you and your family, a summary of the clinical notes and records obtained from your health care providers, a summary of the medical legal reports obtained, a summary of the expert reports obtained, a summary of any witness statements and of your account of the events causing the injuries, details of the legal research completed, an assessment and detailing of all of your claims in terms of the value of each of the claims (pain and suffering, loss of income, out of pocket expenses, special damages etc..)and supporting facts and documents and finally, a proposal for a comprehensive total settlement. The settlement brief is reviewed by you before being submitted to the other side.
21. That medical brief is submitted to the relevant insurance companies, adjusters and lawyers involved and they review the proposal.
22. Once the relevant insurance companies, adjusters and lawyers involved have reviewed the proposal, we either meet with them in person or discuss the case by telephone in an attempt to settle your claims. If the settlement amount discussed falls within the acceptable range you would be happy to accept, we confirm the settlement with the insurance adjuster.
23. The insurance adjuster then forwards the settlement cheque to our office with a full and final release which is a document in which you sign and promise that you will never sue over the incident again.
24. We usually wait 10 business days for the cheque to clear (normal banking clearing rules) and then, after deducting our agreed upon costs, we deliver the cheque to you with a full reporting letter outlining what has occurred on your case together with a copy of relevant documents.
How long does it take to settle a personal injury case?
The length of time it takes to reach a settlement of a personal injury claim depends on many factors, including the following:
1. How fast you are able to respond to your lawyer’s requests for various information and documents relevant to your case.
2. Any difficulties your lawyer experiences with the insurance company or adjuster.
3. How long it takes you to recover from your injuries.
4. How long it takes for your health care providers to provide a prognosis which is a professional opinion on the nature and severity of your injuries going forward.
5. How long it takes for your health care providers to provide the requested medical legal reports and clinical notes and records.
6. If necessary, how long it takes for the insurance adjuster to arrange for independent medical testing and examinations.
7. How long it takes for the insurance adjuster to review the file and settlement proposal, seek instructions from their principals (usually a boss at the insurance company and provide a position on settlement.
Each case is different. On average, it takes 8 to 16 months to obtain a settlement, providing the healing time is about 4 months.
If you need a respected and experienced personal injury lawyer, contact us at 613-315-HURT or 613-315-4878. Marc Quinn, Mediator, Personal Injury Lawyer, Law Instructor. Ottawa Personal Injury Lawyer Network Founder