Dennis C. Hogan
How Long Will My Case Take?
For the loss someone caused you to suffer from an injury you’re entitled to compensation with money. Therefore, injured clients often want to know how soon they can expect to see a check to compensate them. Clients often ask me, “How long will my case take?”
The answer is that every case is different because the whole process is affected by the time it takes for each necessary step .
An insurance company might be willing to pay something to settle the case before my client is recovered. The client may even like the idea of taking money before the injury is fully healed. However, an insurance company is not going to assume you will have treatment in the future. While a client and I cannot assume that the healing will happen without any setbacks.
The first step in settling a claim is for the injured party to come to the end of their medical treatment. For some, that means returning to full health and completing treatment. Naturally, recovering from injuries takes different amounts of time. A young healthy person can expect to recover from the injury more quickly that an older less healthy person recovers from the same injury. An unhealthy person with a lot of years can expect slow healing and setbacks that slow down the process.
If an insurance company prematurely attempts to evaluate a case, it will be based on one set of assumptions, while the client will be viewing the value of the case with entirely different assumptions. It is nearly impossible for opposing parties to come to the same dollar value after starting with different assumptions about the needed treatment, its cost, and the length of time for healing.
If the injured client is still treating, then in the client’s mind there are factors to consider that have not yet happened and therefore the insurance adjuster is unlikely to consider. On the other hand if the client feels fully healed then the adjuster can read the medical reports and consider all the treatment needed by the client.
If the client is permanently injured then the client gets a statement from the client’s physician stating that there is a permanent injury and perhaps giving the percentage of permanency the client has suffered.
To make the correct next step toward reaching agreement with the insurance company it is critical that the insurance adjuster consider all the facts about my client’s injury.
Attorneys have different opinions about how to present a claim for injury to an insurance company. Some attorney’s send all the medical bills, reports and lost wage documents to the adjuster with a short letter which says, ‘here is the information, contact me when you are ready to discuss this.’ When I worked as an adjuster a coworker ignored the attorney’s cover letter, organized the bills and reports as she wanted them and created an evaluation based only on documents submitted. However, I preferred to read everything presented including the attorney’s letter.
Therefore, it is my opinion that the cover letter is an opportunity to frame the entire claim, point out the strength of our theory of liability, inform about activities that the injury prevented my client from enjoying, and explain the necessity of each medical bill, (especially when that is not obvious). Once the adjuster receives the demand letter it is best to give that adjuster time to thoroughly go through the demand letter and understand it. The adjusters want to make their job of negotiating easier by getting as much money as possible assigned to the case. Sometimes that just means notating the case for an amount within the authority of the adjuster. For cases worth more than the adjuster’s regular authority, the adjuster must write a request for their supervisor to authorize a greater amount. For this reason when I follow up after the demand it is only to say, I want to make sure it has been received. I encourage them to take what time they need, even when I am ready to start talking about the case.
The negotiations are not required to take any particular amount of time. Generally, the closer the parties start the faster they come together. I have been negotiating injury cases since the 1980’s so I get a feel for how they are going and when time might help improve our position versus when the time is right to “get down to brass tacks.” At some point negotiating to bring people to an agreement is more art than science.
In 1965, future U.S. President Ronald Reagan wrote in his first autobiography about his time negotiating as President of the Screen Actors Guild. He relates that impasses to the hard stands taken at the negotiating table were often circumvented when the participants took a break to go to the men’s room. In the rest room a casual dialog took place that helped get around the positions separating the parties. I reach the best results for my clients by knowing if and when I should create the same effect, in a different way, during my negotiations.
If the case cannot be negotiated to settlement with the insurance company then we must sue the defendant in court. The time required for the litigation process varies but cases in the Superior Court take more than a year and smaller cases in the Circuit Civil Division take at least 6 months. Covid 19 has thrown all the court time lines up in the air and it will take some months after things are normal for the Courts to return to a normal calendar.