When filing a personal injury lawsuit, one of the questions our Minnesota clients ask most often is “how long will it take”? There’s no definitive answer, as each case is different. However, we can walk you through a typical timeline to give you a better idea what to expect.
Most Cases Settle Without Litigation
The majority of cases settle without any litigation. Typically a demand will be made for settlement and negotiations will take place. Only if the insurance company will not offer a fair amount to settle the claim will it go into litigation. Because personal injury settlements are a one time lump sum, it is important to wait until the future medical needs and impact on your quality of life is fully understood before trying to value and settle the case.
After contacting an attorney, the first step will involve an evaluation of your case. This is done to ensure you have a valid remedy available under law, as well as to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Your lawyer will ask you some questions about your injury, and may also collect other information such as:
- Settlement offers from insurance companies
- Police reports
- Eyewitness statements
- Photographs of the accident scene
- Preliminary medical reports
Statute of Limitations
The Minnesota Statutes allows for a six-year statute of limitations for negligence claims resulting in personal injury. The clock starts running on the day of your injury. If you suspect you have been injured due to another person’s negligence, it’s important to take action right away if you are to safeguard your rights.
Filing a Complaint
If it appears you have a valid legal remedy, and cannot reach a settlement out of court, the next step will be to file a lawsuit. This is normally done by filing a Summons and Complaint in the county where the injury occurred. Civil Procedure Rule 12 of the Minnesota Court Rules requires defendants to submit an Answer to your complaint within 20 days of receiving the summons.
After receiving the Answer, you will then move into the discovery phase. This is the longest stage of any court case, and involves collecting evidence to support your position. Some things that may take place during discovery include:
- Interviewing witnesses
- Undergoing depositions
- Submitting interrogatories, which are a list of questions in written format that must be answered
- Submitting requests for production of documents
- Attending medical examinations with physicians hired by the insurance company.
The idea behind discovery is for both sides to have as much information as possible. The amount of discovery varies in each case, so those that are more complex will naturally take longer. You can expect the discovery process to take anywhere from a few months to a few years.
The majority of personal injury cases in Minnesota are settled before going to trial. This is often done through a process known as mediation. During mediation, attorneys for both sides try to come up with a settlement that is agreeable to both parties. Successful mediation gives you more control over the outcome, but may require you to concede on certain points.
If mediation is unsuccessful, the final step will be a court hearing. During a court hearing, both sides will present evidence and plead for the court to take favorable action. To prevail, you must prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence. This is a lesser burden than beyond a reasonable doubt, which is reserved only for criminal cases. Preponderance of the evidence means that it is more likely than not that something happened. A court trial can take anywhere from one day to several weeks, and may or may not be heard by a jury.
Rendering a Decision
Most decisions are handed down at the end of a court trial; however, some are not issued for several days. If successful, the amount of damages you receive will depend on the nature of your accident, the amount of pain and suffering you have experienced, and whether or not you are also at fault. Minnesota follows what is known as a comparative fault doctrine. This means that if you are found to be partially negligent, your damages will be reduced by that amount. For example, if you are 25% at fault, your settlement will be reduced by one-fourth.
Help During Every Stage of your Personal Injury Claim
Personal injury cases are often very complicated matters that require a great deal of attention to detail. They come with certain deadlines that must be met in order to move your case forward. Having an experienced personal injury attorney by your side is the best way to ensure the most successful outcome possible.
Here at Patterson Dahlberg, we are a law firm that practices exclusively in the area of personal injury. We are therefore familiar with the various actions that must be taken in order to preserve your rights and see that justice is served. You only have one chance to make your voice heard-please contact us so that we can be that voice for you.