Most New York personal injury cases settle soon after the injured victim has finished her medical treatment. At that time, her personal injury lawyer and the insurance adjuster can see the full extent of the injury. At that time, most New York personal injury lawyers, including myself, sit the client down, advise them on what a fair settlement would be, and then get the insurance adjuster to offer that, or more.
Sometimes, though, no matter how skillful a personal injury lawyer is at negotiating with insurance adjusters, he or she can’t get the insurance adjuster to offer fair compensation for the injury. When that happens, the next step is to advise (the decision is up to the client) the client to let us sue. Usually after we sue, and the insurance carrier sees we mean business, the case is resolved either by settlement or trial within a year, or at most two.
But once in a while a case just takes a course of its own — a long one. I am talking about those rare, but unforgettable, crazy, complicated, over-the-top, seemingly never-ending cases. Right now I have two such cases that I have had in suit for more than 5 years. The first one has been up on appeal twice (I won both times) and still has not gotten to trial. It is likely to go up on appeal one more time before we finally get to trial. After trial, who knows, maybe another appeal.
The second involves 10 plaintiffs and, at one time, involved about 14 defendants, and is complicated by the fact that all my clients are from Central America and Mexico.
As I look back at the mothers-of-all cases I have had over the years, they all seem to have three things in common: (1) huge injuries (you don’t fight for more than 5 years over peanuts); (2) lots of witnesses and/or parties (all of whom have to be deposed); and (3) complex legal issues (which sometimes leads to numerous appeals, which in turn puts the brakes on the case while everyone awaits the appellate decisions).
What’s a 5-year old personal injury lawsuit file look like? If you stack it up on the floor, it can rise 10 feet high, or more. Yes it’s tall, and heavy, too, both figuratively and literally. A five-year old case weighs on a lawyer. It becomes part of his life. He lives and breathes it. He often wakes up at night thinking about it. The lawyer has usually poured lots of money into the case, too, for the expenses needed to advance it.
When a case takes that long, I sometimes look back to see if I could have somehow made it go any faster. I have never found any significant delays that I have caused. Instead I see that the fight has been intense, complex, and drawn-out by long waits for lower court decisions, and even longer waits for appellate court decisions. I can’t even blame my opponents for the delays — if I catch them dragging their feet, I call their attention to it and, if they don’t speed it up, I get the judge to put the screws to them.
It’s hard to explain to a non-lawyer how any case on God’s earth could take that long. “Justice is slow” is just a worn cliché, and doesn’t explain anything.
I have been blessed with clients who understand the time it takes, know it’s not my fault, and are blessed with large doses of patience. And thankfully, cases like these are one in a hundred . . .
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
Central NY Personal Injury Lawyer Michaels & Smolak, P.C.