How long does a personal injury claim take to settle?

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Personal injury claims vary extensively in their nature depending on the type of accident (i.e. an accident at work, tripping accident or a road traffic accident) and the injuries which have been sustained, which can again be wide ranging e.g. broken bones, whiplash, head injuries and fatalities.

How long does a compensation claim take?

It's virtually impossible to predict at the outset how long a claim will take to resolve. There are two main issues to consider when making any personal injury claim which are:

  • Liability - who is to blame for the accident and your injury
  • Medical Evidence - proving the accident caused the injury and assessing the damage it has caused you

The Personal Injury Claim Process

Full Recovery or Medical Prognosis

In terms of the injury, the Claimant first has to prove that the accident caused the injury which can usually be established quite easily by obtaining a medical report. However depending on the kind of injuries suffered, it may be necessary to obtain more than one report, or for the Claimant to undergo treatment such as physiotherapy before a medical expert can give a final opinion on the effect of the injuries suffered.

Your lawyer is unlikely to advise you to settle your claim until you have either made a full recovery from your injuries or you have a firm medical prognosis in place. The prognosis will be in the form of a report from an independent medical expert, confirming the extent of your injuries, when you recovered (or are likely to recover), and how you are likely to be affected in the future. The reason for waiting to settle your claim until this medical evidence is complete is that once a claim is settled, it is done so on a 'full and final' basis, meaning that no further compensation can be paid in relation to that claim.

Therefore if you were to settle your claim before either making a complete recovery, or before you had a firm prognosis in place, you would be at risk of under-settling your claim, with no ability to apply for further compensation if your injuries persisted for longer than expected or became worse in the future.

In order to calculate how much your claim for your pain and suffering may be worth (also referred to as 'general damages') your lawyer will use the report prepared by the medical expert to compare your injuries to Claimants in previously settled cases (referred to as case law), who have sustained injuries similar to your own and who have taken a similar amount of time to recover. Your lawyer will also refer to a source called the Judicial Council guidelines for guidance on how much your claim may be worth.

Claim Complexity

As a very general guide the more severe or complex your injuries, the longer it will take to gather medical expert evidence which inevitably extends the timeframe for settlement of your claim. Your Opponent (the person or company you are claiming against) may also want to appoint their own medical experts of like expertise to provide their opinion on your injuries.

As severe cases do take time to reach the point of settlement, it is common to request interim payments to cover things such as any lost earnings from your Opponent while the case is being progressed. The aim is to help Claimants who may be suffering financially as a result of being off work. An interim payment is essentially an advance payment on your damages and is therefore simply deducted from the final compensation award at the end of the case. For example, if you settled your claim for £3,000, but had already received £1,000 by way of an interim payment, you would receive a further £2,000 (making the total £3,000).

Ultimately, there is no 'formula' which states how long a compensation claim will take to settle. Each case is different and whether settlement of your particular case takes several weeks, several months or even a couple of years to achieve will depend largely on the extent of your injuries, the amount of time you are expected to take to recover and whether or not liability for the accident is in dispute.

Liability and Admitting Responsibility

Liability may be admitted straight away by your Opponent, and if it is then the claim can progress in a relatively straightforward manner. However if liability is denied, and your Opponent is arguing that you or someone else contributed to the accident, then detailed arguments are likely to be exchanged between the various legal representatives. As part of the investigations into liability, it may be necessary to get witness statements, review lengthy documents or CCTV footage. Depending upon the strength of the evidence available and the complexity of the issues, liability discussions can take time to be resolved and agreed upon, which in turn may lengthen the amount of time it takes to settle your claim.

Personal Injury Settlement Negotiations

Once conclusive medical evidence has been obtained and evidence gathered in support of your other 'special damages' (financial expenses, loss of earnings, travel expenses etc), your lawyer may be in a position to begin settlement negotiations. It is important to note that Court proceedings must be issued within 3 years of the accident date, so this is usually the final backstop date in any negotiations.

Ministry of Justice Streamlined Process Settlements

A streamlined settlement process was introduced by the government in 2010 which applied to Road Traffic Accident (RTA) cases valued between £1,000 and £10,000. In July 2013 this streamlined process was extended to cover not only RTA, but also Employers Liability and Public Liability cases. The range of case values was also extended and now applies to cases valued between £1,000 and £25,000.

So in a straightforward claim of these natures, the case would ideally settle within 4-9 months. However some cases are expected to exit this streamlined process due to complexity or liability issues which may then extend the length of time required to reach a settlement.

Whilst each claim is unique, the general settlement timeframes set out below can be used as a rough guide for each type of personal injury claim. These timeframes are based on the assumption that liability is admitted, and recovery from the injuries is expected within a reasonable amount of time:

Claim Type Estimated Case Settlement Timeframe
Road Accident Claim 4 - 9 months
Workplace Accident Claim 6 - 9 months
Slip, Trip, Fall Claim 6 - 9 months
Industrial Disease Claim 12 - 18 months
Medical Negligence Claim 18 - 36 months

This is a very general guide and each claim is different, so your solicitor will update you at regular intervals with regards to the progress of your claim and any issues that arise.

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