How Long Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Take in Florida?
On average, personal injury lawsuits take 1–3 years in Florida, though they can settle in less time or take longer if they continue through trials and appeals. Most cases end in a settlement, so exceeding this timeframe occurs only in rare situations.
Many factors impact the length of each case. Generally, lower-value cases settle sooner because the insurance company sees litigating them as too expensive. Often, the cost of defending the case in court can exceed the total value of the settlement by many times.
On the other hand, insurers are willing to invest more in defending a high-value claim. Even if a jury finds them liable at trial, it may award plaintiffs less than a settlement. In some cases, the fees are worth it from a financial perspective.
Also, some plaintiffs benefit from delaying a settlement until their injuries reach the point of maximum medical improvement. At this stage, the full impact of the injury on the plaintiff’s future is more certain, which can result in more compensation.
Some cases have factual disputes. For example, a defendant might claim the plaintiff caused the car accident and refuse to settle. This could result in the case going to a jury trial. Juries are the triers of fact, and they decide whether to believe the defendant’s claims.
In some situations, the case reaches the appellate stage, where either side may argue the trial was unfair or the award inappropriate.
The determining factor on the length of a lawsuit is how far into the process it continues.
The Insurer’s Determination
Most defendants have insurance that covers all or a substantial portion of their liability. Therefore, the case begins with the insurer’s determination. Next, an adjuster examines its client’s evidence and claims and determines if it owes the other party. If it does, the adjuster tabulates the damages to which the victim is entitled and offers it in a settlement.
Accepting this determination ends the claim. However, most personal injury victims are ill-advised to accept the initial offer. Insurance companies rarely offer total damages without litigation. Generally, they offer a portion of your economic damages, leaving you with a short settlement.
Why Insurers Offer Less Than the Claim Is Worth
Pennsylvania law allows personal injury plaintiffs to seek economic and non-economic damages. Monetary damages include the following:
- Property damage
- Ambulance transport
- Emergency room charges
- Doctor visits
- Physical therapy
- Lost wages
- Lost self-employment income
- Lost business income
- Lost benefits
Non-economic damages include the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
Insurers tend to offer only the value of medical bills and other economic damages; however, the non-economic damages can exceed economic ones several times. Additionally, insurers often want to pay current medical expenses but indemnify themselves against future medical costs related to the accident.
Also, insurance adjusters take a biased view of comparative negligence. Under Florida’s comparative negligence laws, one party may be found fully liable, or the liability may be split between the parties.
For instance, a court may decide that the defendant is 90% responsible and the plaintiff 10%. As a result, the plaintiff receives 90% of her economic and non-economic damages.
However, insurance companies usually view the opposing party’s liability as far more than it should be. For instance, the insurer may offer to pay 70% of economic damages when it should pay 90% or 100%. In addition, such a settlement provides nothing for non-economic damages. Accordingly, accepting such a determination works against the insured party’s interest.
Because of this, it is always advisable to consult an attorney before accepting any settlement.
Though the insurer offers a lowball settlement at first, it’s possible for your Florida personal injury attorney to negotiate a much more worthwhile settlement without going to court. When this occurs, the process may end in just a few short months.
However, cases usually settle at this point only when they have a small value and clear fact patterns. Most claims must be filed in court before the insurer is willing to offer a reasonable sum.
After the plaintiff files a complaint, the defendant must respond with an answer. Then the parties engage in discovery.
Discovery offers both sides the opportunity to gather relevant evidence. Attorneys may obtain evidence such as cell phone video or pictures, police reports, accident reconstruction results, witness statements, and other documentary and physical evidence. Each side must present the other with all the evidence it plans to introduce in court. There can be no surprises.
The initial discovery stage sometimes facilitates a settlement because both sides have had the chance to review all the evidence. Often, this leads to the inescapable conclusion that the defendant has all or most of the liability and the plaintiff has substantial economic and non-economic damages. As a result, both sides are more likely to agree on a figure.
Cases that settle early in the discovery process may conclude in a year or so. However, cases that must go further into this phase take longer.
Once all the evidence has been compiled and reviewed, attorneys on both sides prepare interrogatories. Interrogatories are sets of written questions posed to witnesses by opposing counsel. They must be answered under oath.
Some questions are standard for a personal injury case, while others are particular questions designed by the attorneys for a specific situation. In addition, interrogatories often further clarify the issues of the case and create opportunities for settlements.
Depositions consist of face-to-face interviews of witnesses by opposing counsel. They are recorded and under oath. Attorneys must stick to facts related to the case. They must refrain from fishing around in extraneous matters.
Depositions are time-consuming for the witnesses and expensive for the defense. Therefore, some parties become more motivated to settle before depositions are conducted. Also, depositions can expose the defense to risk. For example, if the defendant makes a crucial admission, it can strengthen the plaintiff’s case.
Also, the defense may become more motivated to settle after depositions. An admission by the defense or a failure to shake the plaintiff’s claim may make them reevaluate their likelihood of succeeding at trial.
Settlement conferences have a high success rate. They can occur early in the lawsuit or just before the trial date. Settlement conferences encourage mediation by forcing each side to sit down and negotiate in real time. Often, judges order these conferences in an attempt to resolve the case without a trial. A settlement conference can shorten the length of a lawsuit by several months or a year, or more.
Lawsuits can settle just before, during, or after a trial. Personal injury trials usually last between 1–7 days. Both sides must put substantial time and money into preparing for trial and presenting evidence. Also, each bears the risk of an adverse verdict. The steps of a trial include the following:
- Choosing a Jury
- Opening Statements
- Witness Testimony and Cross-Examination
- Closing Arguments
- Jury Instruction
- Jury Deliberation and Verdict
Because of the expense and risk involved, it is common for cases to settle on the eve or day of the trial and as the case develops. For example, one party may offer the other a settlement before closing arguments if it feels the jury may be inclined against it. Of course, the offer would need to be very sweet to be attractive to the other side, which likely feels it has an advantage.
Nonetheless, trials are risky, and there is no way to know with certainty that the jury will reach a predicted verdict. A settlement is safer. Also, more than a win at trial is needed to collect a judgment. The losing side will appeal, resulting in additional years of potential litigation at an enormous cost. Therefore, the side with the perceived advantage may determine it’s financially beneficial to take a settlement offer.
Personal injury appeals differ from criminal appeals in that both parties may file. The appeals can seek to overturn the jury’s verdict or alter the award amount.
Appeals must be based on points of law and errors made by the trial court. They are not a forum for retrying the case. The jury has sole discretion in determining facts. However, if the appellate court feels the judge erred in allowing certain evidence or providing a jury instruction, it may conclude the trial was flawed, overturn the verdict, and order a new trial.
Collecting the Judgment
Settlements are also safer in regards to collecting the compensation. The defendant must provide the money before the court dismisses the case, so there is no worry about winning a worthless judgment.
In personal injury law, insurance companies cover the expense of the judgment, so they usually pay any portion for which they have liability. However, what if the damages exceed the limits of the defendant’s insurance? In that case, you must collect the difference from that person directly.
Legal mechanisms exist to enforce a judgment, including the following:
- Post-judgment discovery to uncover the debtor’s resources
- Wage garnishment
- Liens on debtor property
For these mechanisms to result in the collection, the debtor must have adequate assets. Accordingly, if the debtor has a home with equity, savings or investments, or a high income, there is a good chance that you can collect the judgment. However, a poor defendant with few assets and limited income may be judgment-proof.
Personal Injury Lawsuits Usually Settle in Florida
The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits settle before trial. As a result, the typical case takes 1–3 years, depending on how far into the process you must go to compel the defense to offer a fair settlement. However, trial cases can take much longer because of the appeals process and the possibility that the appellate court requires a new trial.
If you have suffered an accident injury, you typically face a process that lasts a year or more to receive total compensation. Therefore, the sooner you start the process, the sooner you receive the payment you deserve. Contact Rosen Injury Law for a free personal injury consultation.