A car accident caused by a drunk driver can be a traumatic event that leaves you with serious injuries. If you have been injured in such an accident, you deserve compensation for your distress and your medical bills. The possibility of filing a personal injury lawsuit can be overwhelming, and you probably hope to understand how long it might take.
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer. Drunk driving lawsuits can take anywhere from a few months to closer to two years, even when they settle before trial. There are a number of factors that will impact the timeline of your individual drunk driving claim.
Preparing Your Case
The first timing factor you need to be aware of is the statute of limitations for personal injury cases. In Nevada, this time limit is two years, so you will need to file your claim within two years of your accident. Gathering all the necessary facts can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on how complex the case and evidence are.
You may want to wait until you have completed your medical treatment for your injuries, or have at least had your health stabilize enough that you have a clear idea of what your medical expenses will look like going forward. This state is known as maximum medical improvement. If you file before this point and have additional medical expenses later, you may not be able to recover damages for those expenses.
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Negotiating with the Insurance Company
Many car accident cases are settled through an insurance claim without filing a lawsuit. Even if you will not be suing, working with an attorney is a good idea. Your attorney can help you negotiate with the insurance company to get the best deal.
The drunk driver’s insurance company will usually offer you a settlement quickly. Your attorney will help you determine whether the settlement offer is reasonable and negotiate for more compensation. If you are not able to come to an agreement at this point, you will move on to filing a lawsuit.
Filing and Serving a Complaint
Once you have your facts prepared, actually filing your complaint only takes a few minutes. The lengthier part of this stage is serving the complaint to the defendant, who is the drunk driver along with their insurance company. This usually takes a few weeks, but it can take longer if the defendant is difficult to contact.
Waiting for the Defendant’s Response
The defendant usually has about a month to respond to your complaint. If your case is very straightforward, the defendant could respond with a settlement offer as soon as you file the lawsuit. However, most drunk driving cases will proceed to the discovery stage.
If you were at all responsible for the accident, the defendant will probably bring this up as a counterclaim at this point. Nevada uses a modified comparative negligence rule, which means that you can still receive damages even if you were partially responsible for the accident, as long as you bear less than 50% responsibility. However, your compensation would be reduced based on the percentage of liability.
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Gathering and Exchanging Evidence
The discovery phase, in which the two parties exchange documents and other evidence, is usually the longest portion of a drunk driving case that settles before trial. Discovery usually requires a minimum of several months, but it can take closer to a year. The process will take longer if there is a disagreement between the parties over what information needs to be shared.
Discovery can include requests for evidence, such as written documents or videos of the accident. Depositions, in which parties and witnesses answer questions under oath, and interrogatories, which are a written version of a deposition, are also common.
The Settlement Process
Drunk driving cases frequently settle at this point. Once discovery is completed, both sides have a good sense of where liability can be proven and the scope of the damages, leaving them in a good position to come to an agreement.
Some cases settle almost immediately after discovery is completed. Others require more time devoted to negotiation before an agreement is reached.
Trial and Appeals
Drunk driving accidents and other personal injury cases very rarely go to trial. When they do, the actual trial is usually short, lasting only a day or two. The most time-consuming part of going to trial is waiting for the trial to be scheduled, which can take a year or more.
If you get an unfavorable result from a trial and have grounds for one, an appeal can take another six months to a year. Again, this is uncommon for drunk driving cases, which usually settle much earlier in the process.
While each case is different, you can expect your drunk driving settlement to take somewhere between a few months and around two years. The complexity of the case, the defendant’s actions, and your willingness to settle will all impact this timeframe.
Usually, you will have some degree of control over the timeline. You can work with your lawyer to determine the balance in your priorities between settling quickly and fighting for the maximum possible compensation.
Work with an Experienced Attorney Today
The uncertainty of how long your legal process might take before you receive damages can add to the difficulty of your situation after an accident. Working with an attorney with experience in drunk driving injury cases will help you get the compensation you deserve. In addition, your attorney will be able to consider the individual details of your case and give you a more accurate estimate of how long your lawsuit might take.
Lawyers usually take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis, so you will not need to pay anything until you settle or win your case. To schedule a free case evaluation, contact Pacific West Injury Law.