Many people hire a lawyer with no prior experience as to how the legal system works.

It is highly complex, and the timeline of a personal injury lawsuit from start to finish can be long and emotionally challenging.

Accidents and personal injuries are unexpected, unpleasant, and upsetting. It may be tempting to delay legal proceedings, but timing is critical and the sooner you take action, the better your chances will be of recovering losses.

At GJEL Accident Attorneys we communicate every step of the way with our clients to help them understand each step of the personal injury timeline.

Each case takes a different path, and those paths are not always predictable. Despite the difficulty of this situation, you will need to document evidence and prepare for the legal procedures ahead of you; having an experienced personal injury law firm behind you will make everything easier.

Lawyers often specialize in certain areas of law. For example, an attorney may focus on family law, criminal defense, civil litigation, or real estate. Some lawyers also practice out of state, while others choose to limit their practice to a specific geographic area. Lawyers must pass a bar exam before they can practice law.

Learn the steps in a personal injury lawsuit and how long the average case takes below:

A personal injury lawsuit flowchart shows the steps involved in filing a case

Below, we address some of what you can expect when filing a personal injury lawsuit.


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Personal Injury Lawsuit Timeline Chart

Personal Injury Lawsuits are complex legal proceedings that involve many different parties. Personal injury cases can take years to settle or go to trial. Below is a timeline that shows you what happens during the course of a personal injury lawsuit.


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What Are The Steps in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

While we can’t tell you everything that might happen in any particular case, these steps provide an overview of what you may generally expect:

  1. Medical Recovery & Attorney Research – Medical recovery and attorney research – After any accident, you should seek out the proper medical care. Even if you don’t feel injured you should seek out medical help as injuries may come later. If you cannot afford medical treatment you should seek the advice of an attorney and see if there is a legal claim against the party responsible for your injury. As the victim, you must determine whether or not to hire an attorney and which attorney you should hire. If the accident happened more than 2 years ago, then you will need to contact a personal injury attorney immediately. You should also note that the statute of limitation is within 2 years from when the accident happened. This is a critical timeline constraint. If you decide to sue, the first step is to investigate the incident.
  2. The Initial Investigation Process – The initial investigation process begins when the law firm receives the police report. The law firm will then review the treatment records and witness statements. If there are any discrepancies, the law firm will contact the treating physicians and/or hospitals to obtain additional information.
  3. Settlement Negotiations Begin – In most cases, the insurance company will try to settle the claim directly with the insured before an attorney gets involved. Once the negotiations begin, they will proceed through mediation or arbitration. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, then the matter will go to court.
  4. Preparation of The Lawsuit – If the victim does not feel like the settlement offer is appropriate the firm will conduct final research on your case and prepare to file the lawsuit with the court.
  5. Defendants are Served – Once a lawsuit is filed, the next step is to have the appropriate documents served on the defendant within a certain timeframe.
    • The courts typically require papers get served on the defendants somewhere between 30 to 60 days from the date when the lawsuit is filed.
    • In the average case, the defendant(s) are indeed served papers within 30 days.
  6. Defendants Respond – Once the defendant(s) are served, they have 30 additional days from the date of service within which to file their responsive papers.  It is very common for defendants to ask for an additional 15 days grace period to do so.
  7. Written Questions – Written questions are sent to the other party about what happened during the time period covered by the lawsuit. These questions are called interrogatories. The answers are usually given within 35 days of receiving the question. The answers are then reviewed by the lawyers to see if there is any need to file an amended complaint. If the answers are not satisfactory, the lawyers may ask the judge to allow them to file an amended complaint with the answers included.
  8. Defense Medical Examination – It is very common for insurance companies to want their own medical examination. If this happens your attorney should be present.
  9. Oral Depositions – Oral depositions often take place within 6 months of lawsuit filing.  A deposition is a more informal proceeding than presenting actual testimony in court.  It involves sitting in a lawyer’s office with a court reporter present and answering questions asked by the other party’s attorney.A court reporter is present during a deposition and these statements can be used at trial. This requires a lot of preparation and you should follow your attorneys advice closely.
  10. Hiring & Investigation by Expert Witnesses – If the case has not settled and is proceeding towards trial, both sides will be hired by both sides to present their arguments.
  11. Disclosing Expert Witnesses – Each side must disclose who their expert witnesses are as well as the subject of their testimony.
  12. Depositions of Expert Witnesses – The attorneys will make sure each side will have the opportunity to conduct additional depositions from the expert witnesses.
  13. Mediation Begins – If negotiations are still unsuccessful, the court typically orders a settlement conference conducted by a retired judge – a skilled, neutral third party. The mediator reviews the case and the parties continue negotiations. Mediation usually lasts one day and occurs between nine and eighteen months into the process. Complex cases may require two days of mediation.
  14. Trial Begins – Trials usually take between 4 days and 2 weeks. Simple non-juried trials can take as little time as 1 day, but complex cases may take as long as 2 months. Jury deliberations can last anywhere from a few hours to several weeks.
  15. Disbursement of Recovery Funds – Any financial recoveries are typically disbursed to the victim within 30 days of a jury verdict or successful mediation.

GJEL has recovered over $950 Million + in Verdicts & Settlements Paid out to our clients.

How Long Does The Average Personal Injury Case Take?

From consultation to conclusion, personal injury cases that go to trial can last over a year. Outside of this timeline, many cases are settled long before a lawsuit is filed. The greater the reputation of the law firm you hire, the greater the likelihood the defendant is going to want to settle the case without litigation.  Insurance companies, for example, are generally not fond of spending large sums hiring lawyers to defend a case, only to lose it at trial and be forced to pay the same amount or more than they would have paid in a pre-lawsuit settlement. This can greatly affect the personal injury settlement timeline.

Auto Accident Settlement Timeline

In cases where there is not a serious injury, an auto accident settlement can come quickly if you negotiate with the insurance company directly. However, if you are seriously injured the timeline above is the most accurate representation of how long the settlement process will take.

How Long Does it Take For A Personal Injury Claim To Come Through?

While there are many factors that affect this timeline, many clients will see their settlement come through in about a year. Experienced personal injury law firms are likely to conclude proceedings faster.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Settlement After A Demand Letter Is Sent Out?

Typically an insurance company will take two to six weeks to complete the process once a demand letter is sent out.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Settlement?

Once the insurance company agrees to pay for the damages from your case the checks can come quickly. In California, checks must come within 30 days from the date the settlement was reached.

Don’t Hide Anything from Your Personal Injury Lawyers

One of the most common ways insurance companies attempt to diminish or dismiss cases is by discrediting testimonies and evidence, and by claiming that injuries are partially or totally due to pre-existing medical conditions. Your personal injury law firm can help mitigate against these accusations, but only if they know everything in advance. Your attorneys are on your team, but they can only fight for you successfully if they have all available information. You should also notify your lawyers if you have large debts so they can prepare to answer any questions eloquently and to your benefit.

The GJEL Difference

When you, as our client, are deposed, a GJEL personal injury attorney is present to make sure the questions are proper, and to instruct you not to answer if they are improper. We prepare you in advance of the deposition of the likely inquiries.  Just as the attorney from the other side will take your deposition, GJEL lawyers will take the deposition of the defendant(s).

  • Sometime during the first six months of the case it is quite common for the defense to have an injured party examined by a doctor hired by the defense.  At GJEL, we always accompany the injured party to that doctor’s visit.
    • Also during this period of time, the medical records of the injured party are subpoenaed by the other side.
  • At some point in the proceedings, the parties begin to hire expert witnesses, both with respect to medical issues and often as to issues involving fault.  Ultimately those expert witnesses will have their depositions taken by the attorneys for the opposing side.
  • Later in the process, as the case gets closer to trial, the attorneys for each side are required to disclose the names of their expert witnesses and to indicate the subject matter of their testimony.
  • Somewhere along the way, settlement discussions will begin either informally or formally.  At some point, the court will typically order the case to mediation.  Mediation is essentially a settlement conference conducted by either a retired judge or a skilled, neutral third party, in order to see if the case can be resolved.
  • If the mediation is not successful, the case then proceeds to trial.  Trials take anywhere from four days to three weeks, depending on the complexity of the matter.  If the trial is a jury trial, the jury will reach a decision usually after deliberating anywhere between several hours and several days.
  • If the mediation is successful, the mediator will write up the terms of the mediation and have everyone sign it.  Then paperwork is exchanged and the injured party usually has his or her funds within 30 days of the date of the mediation.

GJEL Accident Attorneys is a San Francisco Bay area law firm representing plaintiffs in catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases.  Since 1972, GJEL has recovered more than $950 million for its clients, a 99 percent rate of return.

The firm represented the family of a construction worker killed in a pipeline accident who received the largest ever wrongful-death recovery in Contra Costa County — a $10.65 million judgment. For more information, visit or email

The content of this website, and this article are intended to convey general information only.  The reader should not rely upon anything here as legal advice applicable to a particular case or circumstance.  Should you have any questions as to your individual situation, please make an inquiry to GJEL Accident Attorneys.


Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.