Immediate Results: The Fallacy in Personal Injury Cases
Civil litigation disputes take numerous forms such as a personal injury suit stemming from an auto accident, slip and fall, or other cause of serious injury to the less dramatic business torts including breach of contract, filing and foreclosing on a mechanic's liens, or commercial products liability. With respect to personal injury cases, prospective clients often seek and may be influenced by promises of "immediate results". Unfortunately, there is nothing "immediate" about civil litigation, especially in the context of a personal injury or accident case.
In the words of a close colleague of mine, "I can settle your case right now, but you won't like the results."
A typical "personal injury" lawsuit may arise from an automobile accident. Boiled down to the most basic, one driver claims another driver is at fault and files suit against the at-fault driver. Depending on the severity of the injuries and the complexity of the actual collision (i.e. whether experts are needed to recreate the accident with the use of computerized models), a typical case can take anywhere from several months to several years. In fact, the time your attorney works on your case is not necessarily related to the time it will take to achieve a resolution. After all, your case can be resolved at an early settlement conference, mediation or ultimately trial.
However, before you can even think about settlement, your attorney and his or her staff needs to learn a great deal of information about your case. The reality is that civil court dockets are clogged and the attorneys' and experts' schedules are jam-packed with depositions, settlement conferences, motions deadlines, and other meetings. In the case of personal injury suits, it is not uncommon that the extent of a client's injury and treatment plan are not even known until months after the injury happens. Moreover, imagine the red tape, bureaucracy and other legal hurdles involved in getting police reports, medical records, and other official documents from third parties … not to mention obtaining documents from the insurance companies and opposing party. The inherent delays in civil litigation should remove any notion that an "immediate result" is on the horizon in a personal injury case.
Here's the good news though … a well prepared case based on reliable information and documents fetches much more than an uneducated, quick-trigger settlement. When you have a serious injury, a quick resolution will often not afford you the costs and impact of a long-term treatment plan. A case from last year highlights the value of a well-prepared attorney who had time to build a case.
Imagine a client involved in a trucking accident. During a comprehensive accident investigation (made possible by receiving documents, information and photographs from multiple sources), it is revealed that others parties are also responsible for the accident. As far as fault goes, the other driver is always the obvious choice; however, in this case, an expert confirms our suspicion that the design of a private parking lot and the lack of proper traffic control devices at the intersection are also to blame. The case turns from a single defendant action into multiple party litigation. Sure, the case is now more complicated; however, the value of the case increased dramatically. The case eventually settles and allows for your long-term needs. Without the dedicated attention to your case and without fully investigating the facts and theories of the case, a settlement would not have been remotely possible. The monetary settlement required contributions from the additional responsible parties and would not have been possible with a single defendant. In this scenario, as in most every personal injury case, the quick $50,000 settlement would have been a hard pill to swallow some 15 years later when the cost of healthcare related to the injury well exceeds $50,000 per year.
Any attorney can settle a case; you just may not like the results. This is not to say quick settlement are not possible or advisable; however, you and your attorney should have a frank discussion on the factors and forces driving an early settlement. The most obvious question is whether you and your attorney have all the available information to properly value the case and make an informed decision. Before choosing an attorney, be sure to fully understand the timeframe involved and don't take too seriously anyone that promises quick results.
For an honest evaluation of your case during a free consultation, please contact The Gasper Law Group's Civil Litigation Division.