Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?

 Just recently the family and I loaded up the Family Truckster and headed north past Richmond, Washington (which some in my family refer to as "Occupied Virginia"), Philadelphia, New York, and finally to Old Lyme, Connecticut to visit for a few weeks, members of my wife's family. From the time we left my driveway to 14 hours later, I heard the phrase every time I tapped the break, "Are we there yet?" How do they know this phrase, I think? I never taught it to them, and it is one of the biggest kid cliches out there, yet it always happens.

In a similar vein, although without the whining, one of the first thing clients, and particularly personal injury clients ask is "How long will this take?" Unfortunately, I can give the kids in the Truckster a more definite answer (and a juice box) than I can my clients. For the personal injury and car accident cases, after you get accident reports and do a scene investigation, the hold up is medical rather than legal. The client has to get to a point in her medical treatment that she has gotten better, or her doctors are reasonably certain she is as good as she will get. The reason is that before you start filing a lawsuit, you want to try and settle with the insurance company. They are not going to give any money based on what you "think" will happen or what "might" happen, they need to at least know you have enough evidence to get to a jury trial. When you do settle, you can't go back later. So if you accept a settlement from an insurance company and a month later your doctor tells you you need surgery, you can't go back. (This is another reason why personal injury attorneys warn injured people not to settle right away with an insurance company, even if they want to just "get it over with.").

So that process may take a few weeks or a few months, it just depends. Then, after you get the report that the client has reached maximum medical improvement, you have to order the medical records. This can take awhile, and usually I'll have to make multiple requests before the creaky bureaucracy of a hospital or a slammed office manager of a family physician can get me my request. Expect a delay of at least 30-60 days for the records.

After that, you make a demand, and it will take another month before you get to a settlement with the insurance company or decide to file a lawsuit. (that's assuming they don't ask for additional medical records that you don't have). When you file a lawsuit, there is a flurry of activity getting the Complaint prepared and then you wait for the Defendant to answer. In North Carolina, the Defendant has 30 days, but count on 60 because they always get an extension to answer. You'll again have long stretches where it seems nothing happens along with spikes of activity–answering discovery, the client's deposition, perhaps a motion for Summary Judgment. Until finally, a jury trial. I usually tell my clients that in the areas I practice, count on roughly a year from the date of filing the Complaint, to a jury verdict. In the rare cases where there is an appeal, that could drag on another six months to a year.

One thing I do try to remember is that while I know what needs to be done right away, what can wait, and when a case is "moving" or "stalled." My clients don't have that knowledge. Also, while I have a lot of cases, each of my clients only has one. They want to be assured that I am actually working on their case as quickly as I can, and very few clients are unreasonably demanding of my time. The best thing that works for me is to let them know when something is going on, and, more importantly when something isn't going on and I'm waiting for medical records or discovery or an Answer. The second best thing is actually take their phone calls. A five minute conversation about the only case they have is something each client deserves, even if it does sometimes feel like you are answering "Are we there yet?"

–Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC who specializes in Personal Injury, Car Accidents, Medical Malpractice, Contract and Real Estate disputes, and all forms of Civil Litigation.  Please contact him at (910) 772-1678. 

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