Sun Tzu gets some credit for this pithy insight as does someone named Sextus Empricus who wrote “The mills of the gods grind slowly but exceedingly fine.” What does this have to do with legal practice. Well, for starters, nothing moves quickly in personal injury law. That was true before the pandemic and is more true now. We live in a rapid response world, where I can order cycling tights on amazon and have them the next day. So, we grow accustomed to things being done yesterday. However, every time I meet a new client, I have to take the time to explain that getting to the end of your case will take months, if not years.
My average case takes about 9 months. More serious cases take 1-3 years. So, if you are looking for a quick buck, you have come to the wrong place. But, with that being said, about 94% of personal injury cases settle without going through trial. So, odds are that you will get a favorable settlement, but odds are that it will take time. Why so much time? Well, a whole series of factors delay the progress of your typical case.
First, cases cannot be analyzed and negotiated until we have a full picture from your medical records. Typically, we will not order your medical records until you have undergone at least 3-6 months of treatment because a visit or two is not useful to me and further, getting medical records produced is a tremendous headache. Hospitals and doctors’ offices are required to keep records for seven years. But, they are not required to produce them in a speedy manner. So, often we wait 45-60 days to receive records. A whole cottage industry has sprung up in charging lawyers and clients for medical records retrieval, which is totally ridiculous, when they could be emailed in a moment. To some extent, medical records retrieval has become a small profit center for healthcare providers. Regardless, this is the first bottleneck in moving cases along. The second is that no case that is filed in Court ever takes less than a year from start to finish, with very limited exceptions. Occasionally, I will file cases in federal court as they have rapid timelines, but rapid usually means 9 months from start to finish if all goes smoothly.
There is simply no way to rush a case along. If I file a lawsuit today, I have to serve it which takes a month or so. Then the other side has 20 days to answer. If they don’t answer, I have to notify them that they have 10 more days to act or I will seek a default. And on it goes. These protections often just serve to delay the progress of your average case. The procedural delays are generally there to protect clients and lawyers from things unexpectedly happening on their case without their knowledge. Most court systems I deal with have electronic filing and notification systems. So, I know right away when some ruling occurs, but there is still an overworked or understaffed judge or Court on the other side of the e-filing system. So, if I file a motion to compel the other side to do something today, the other side will usually have 20-30 days to respond and then the Court will usually not act until another 3 months has passed. In Philadelphia, things are a little quicker, but you can see that 90 days can go by with absolutely nothing happening on a case while we wait for things to progress on this one motion.
Nevertheless, clients do patiently wait. Most often, cases settle on the eve of trial or during mediations etc. This is the exceedingly fine part. At some point, lawyers on both side, have learned enough about your case to make some judgments about the value of the case in dollars. Every case has strengths and weaknesses. Some are bigger than others. Regardless, at these critical moments when everyone is focused on your case is the best time to resolve the case unless there is a huge gulf between how each side values the case. Those cases go to trial. The rest get settled. So, at the end of a year or more, there is often a negotiated settlement that gets the case resolved and that is agreeable to all sides.