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Personal Injury Lawsuit Timeline: What to Expect 


No one starts their day intending to get in an accident or get injured. It’s not something you can plan for — which means that most people don’t know what steps to take afterwards. This article will take you through a common timeline of a personal injury case. To do that, we’ll look at the story of Hannah, who was rear-ended while stopped at a red light. 

The Scene of the Injury 

There are things you should and can do at the scene of the injury.   Keeping these things in mind will promote the safety of you and those around you and aid in processing your personal injury claim.  . 

  1. Get yourself and anyone else involved to a safe place. Safety is the most important thing at the scene of an accident or injury. For example, if you’ve been in a car accident, make sure that you aren’t likely to be hit by other cars that might be passing by. 
  1. Check for injuries. After an accident, it’s likely that your adrenaline is pumping, so you might not always notice right away if you’ve been hurt. Do a quick once-over to see if you identify any injuries. 
  1. Call the police. Requirements vary from state to state, but every state requires you to call the police after an accident where someone has been injured or killed. It’s a good idea to contact the police regardless. Their reports can be helpful in documenting the accident and the injuries.   
  1. Accept medical care. Emergency medical staff may arrive on the scene. Even if you don’t believe you’ve been hurt, you should always have them take a look at you. They’re trained to detect injuries that you might not be aware of. 
  1. Try to take photographs. It’s not always possible to take photographs of the scene, but if you can do so and do it safely, you should. Photos can help in documenting what happened or provide a different perspective. 
  1. Do not take responsibility for the accident. It’s impossible to tell exactly what or who caused an accident when you’re in the midst of it. Since you’re working with incomplete information, don’t make any statements about your responsibility. There’s time for that later, and such speculative statements are not helpful to anyone and can be misleading.   

Imagine this: Hannah was rear-ended by another car at a traffic light. The other driver claimed that the accident was not his fault because Hannah break-checked him. Hannah did not; her car was stationary when it was hit.  

Hannah makes sure that everyone is safe and then calls the police, who arrive along with an ambulance. While she’s waiting, Hannah takes pictures of the scene from multiple angles. When the police and the EMTs arrive, Hannah provides a statement that tells the specifics of the accident: she was stopped at a stoplight and then rear-ended by the other car. She does not need to defend herself against the other driver’s accusations; instead, she should tell what happened in as rational and simple a way as possible. 

After the Injury 

After you’ve been injured, you should see your doctor if you weren’t evaluated on scene, or if the medical professionals on scene told you to follow up. Medical records are  important in personal injury cases, because they are often the most in-depth evidence of exactly what injury occurred. 

You may be contacted by someone from your insurance or the other party’s insurance. These calls are usually made by insurance adjusters. They will ask you to explain exactly what happened and will ask questions about the accident. Be very cautious when speaking with adjusters. They will probably be very friendly and sound very much as if they’re on your side. Remember, their interests are not the same as your interests.  They’re not on your side.  Adjusters are hired by insurance companies to make sure the companies don’t pay more than they need to. Do not lie to them, but do not give them unnecessary information. If they push you, tell them that you cannot answer any other questions without consulting an attorney. 

If everything goes exactly as it should, the insurance company will provide a settlement offer that correctly values the extent of your injury. Remember, any money you receive will have to help you not only in the immediate aftermath, but for as long as the injury remains. If you’ve been injured, the goal is to “make you whole,” or to get you as close as possible to where you were before the accident happened. This can require a long period, if not a lifetime, of recovery. 

Back to our story: Hannah’s back hurt at the accident site, but the EMTs determined it wasn’t an emergency. They told her to check in with her own doctor the day after. Her doctor ordered X-rays, which found that due to the accident she had suffered from herniated disks in her back. Because of the location of the injury, Hannah’s doctor tells her that recovery may take a long time and require lots of physical therapy.  

Two days after the accident, Hannah receives a call from the other driver’s insurance. They tell her that the other driver claims the accident was Hannah’s fault, and it’s her word against his. But, the adjuster tells her, in order to tie up the case quickly, they’re willing to offer her $5000. 

Hannah remembers how her doctor had told her she needs physical therapy, and she mentions it to the adjuster. The adjuster tells her that she’s not likely to get more than $5000, and if she presses it, the insurance company may decide not to give her anything, as there’s no proof she didn’t cause the accident. 

Choosing a Personal Injury Attorney 

Many people don’t realize that you can hire a personal injury attorney without intending to file a personal injury lawsuit. In fact, the vast majority of personal injury cases end in a settlement rather than a verdict. It’s never too early to speak with an attorney about your case. 

You will want to find a law firm that focuses on personal injury cases. Personal injury law is often complicated, and you need an attorney and a law firm with experience and a personal track record of success. But qualifications aren’t all you should look for. It’s important that you and your attorney work well together. Personal injury attorneys usually offer free initial consultations.

The story continues: Hannah finds a law firm with a good reputation in the area and calls. The intake representative will get some initial information from Hannah about her case and schedule an appointment to meet with an attorney. Hannah feels comfortable with her attorney and the fact he has great success in recovering damages for previous clients. Hannah signs a retainer with her attorney that states she will not be charged unless the case is won. After that, her attorney gets to work. 


Personal injury lawsuits rarely go immediately to court.  Instead, there is a period where your attorney will negotiate with the other driver, their attorney, or their insurance. If the case can be negotiated to find a result that everyone involved believes is fair, then going to court can be avoided. 

However, these negotiations can take time. Your attorney may have to investigate the case, find and speak with witnesses, and seek expert opinions. The other driver’s side will be doing the same thing. And if either side is unwilling to be flexible at all, then it can draw this process out even longer and at times require that a lawsuit be filed in court.   . 

Fortunately, your attorney will handle most of this for you. It’s hard to wait for the result of negotiations, but it’s part of how the legal system works, and it can help you walk away with a better deal than you might have otherwise. Many personal injury cases settle at this stage. The ones that don’t may move on to a lawsuit. 

Back to Hannah: Hannah’s attorney sends a demand letter and gets to work negotiating with the other driver’s insurance company. At this point, Hannah will not need to speak with the insurance company again. Everything is handled through her attorney. After four months, the negotiations have come to a standstill. The other driver’s insurance will not accept that their customer was at fault for the accident and Hannah and her lawyer determine that the best course of action is to continue by filing a lawsuit in court.    


Up to this point, the courts have not been involved in the negotiations. Once you get to a place where the parties are unable to reach an agreement, a lawsuit is filed. This essentially asks the judge or a jury to  weigh the evidence and make a decision about who was at fault and how much is owed. Some lawsuits are decided by judges and others are decided by juries; your attorney will speak with you about what is required and best for you and your case. 

Unfortunately, lawsuits can take even longer than the negotiation period. The case may take anywhere from months to years to complete. Typically, settlement negotiations are still going on even after the lawsuit has been brought, in hopes that a decision can be reached more quickly. Attorneys will investigate the case and then must provide the information they find to the other side. This is called discovery. After discovery, lawyers typically need additional time to prepare their evidence and arguments. When this is complete, the attorneys for both sides make a series of statements in front of a judge and a jury. When all the evidence is presented, the judge or jury renders a verdict, which usually includes which side is at fault and how much they must pay the other side. 

Let’s check in on Hannah: It’s time to file a lawsuit. Hannah and her attorney begin the trial process. Hannah doesn’t have much to do except to wait at this point. However, her attorney is busy finding evidence, interviewing witnesses, and developing arguments to show why the other driver was responsible for the accident. During this time, Hannah’s attorney is also available to give her updates and answer any questions she might have. 

Her case goes to trial 16 months after the accident. Besides the time required for the attorneys to prepare, a jury has to be called and the case needs to be scheduled for when there is an available courtroom. 

The trial itself only takes a few days. Both sides present their evidence, and then the jury retires to weigh everything and reaches a verdict.  Hannah’s jury deliberates for three hours before coming back with a verdict. 

Verdict or Settlement 

A verdict will state who was responsible for an accident, and what the responsible party owes the injured party. Depending on which state you live in, the court may find both parties partially at fault. If this happens, then each party has any possible award reduced by the percentage they were responsible for (so someone who was 20% responsible for the accident could only get 80% of their damages. In other states, all the responsibility will be assigned to one person. 

The judge or jury takes into account the severity of the accident and the resulting injuries when determining the amount of a verdict. If an injury requires long-term care or requires the injured person to substantially change their life, that could be reflected in the amount of the verdict. Verdicts can even come in for less than the last settlement amount offered by the other side.   

A settlement can still be reached at any point before the verdict is returned.   Sometimes, one side may see the writing on the wall and know that they will likely be found responsible, so they offer a settlement instead. Once a settlement is reached and accepted by the court, the trial process stops. 

What happens in Hannah’s case? Hannah’s attorney convinces the jury that Hannah was not responsible for the accident at all, and they award her a verdict that is three times the amount of the last settlement that the insurance company offered. Even after legal fees, Hannah receives about twice as much as she would have if she accepted the settlement. 

Do You Need an Attorney? 

Even if your case doesn’t go to trial, having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side can benefit you.. 

If you’d like to find out how an attorney can help you, call us here at DiPasquale Moore. Our attorneys have extensive experience in personal injury cases, and the initial consultation is free.


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