One of the most common questions from our clients is how long their claim will take to me completed. As with many questions involving Georgia personal injury practice, the answer differs depending on the specific circumstances of the case, including the amount of medical treatment, whether liability is clear, where the lawsuit (if applicable) is filed, and who the defendant is. We have settled some cases in a matter of weeks, while cases that go to court may take years to resolve, particularly if the case is tried and then taken up on appeal. Most cases do not take that long, however, and we always work to resolve cases as quickly as reasonably possible while making sure that we have properly investigated and evaluated the case.
In many personal injury cases, the extent of the claimant's injuries is not known immediately, and treatment may take weeks, months, or even years. In general, we try to get a solid idea of the extent of the injury before submitting a demand to an insurer or defense attorney, because we do not want to make the demand too low if complications in treatment arise or if an injury has not yet become apparent.
In the bulk of our cases, the client has completed treatment in a matter of months. Once that is completed, and medical records are obtained (which can take anywhere from weeks to several months, depending on the medical provider or hospital involved) we generally submit a demand. In some cases, we are required by statute to give 30 days (in car accident cases) for the insurer to respond if the demand is sent before a lawsuit is filed; while this is not required in other sorts of cases (such as premises liability cases for negligent security or falls), we generally give sufficient time for the insurer or defendant to give careful consideration of the amount of our demand, and in some cases grant additional time where the defendant or insurer can demonstrate that they need it.
If the defendant or insurer accepts the demand, the case can usually be finalized quickly, although issues such as hospital liens and health insurance reimbursement claims may require the attorney to engage in further settlement discussions with third-parties as required under state or federal law. Often, however, the insurer will make a counteroffer, in which case we engage in back-and-forth discussions with the defendant or insurer to try to resolve the case (with the client's permission regarding the amount of settlement, of course).
If the case still does not resolve, and a lawsuit needs to be resolved, additional time will be required. In practice, Georgia civil lawsuits usually are called to trial no earlier than a year after filing, although occasionally it happens earlier. But many (probably most) cases resolve (generally by settlement) before trial, and therefore, depending on what is uncovered during the "discovery" stage of litigation (the time when the parties exchange documents, take depositions, and propound and respond to questions from the opposite party.
If the case does go to trial and a verdict is rendered, either or both sides may appeal the verdict. The appellate process is sometimes slow. For example, the Georgia Court of Appeals usually takes 7-8 months to rule on a case, not counting the time waiting for the trial court clerk to prepare the appellate record (which can itself range from weeks to months, depending on how busy the clerk is).
All of that is to say that every case is different and whether any particular case will take 2 months or 2 years or more to resolve depends on many factors. Fortunately, we can usually offer the client an estimate of the time that a case is likely to take after investigating and determining any likely defenses and complications. It should be noted, however, that a "quick settlement" may sometimes result in a worse outcome for the victim, since settlement early in the case, before all of the facts have come to light, may not take into account aggravating factors that could increase the amount of settlement.
Therefore, we seek to investigate thoroughly all cases before discussing settlement, and in some cases encourage the client to allow us to litigate the case to allow for further investigation (much of which can only be undertaken with the ability of the parties to obtain evidence through the court process) into potential circumstances that could result in a far more significant recovery. This can be true of any case, but is often the case in trucking (tractor trailer) cases, where a driver or company's maintenance, employment, and safety records are usually not available before suit, as well as in premises liability cases, where a store or other property owner's safety and inspection policies can usually only be studied once we are able to undertake discovery through the litigation process.