It’s a challenge to put a specific time frame to how long it takes to settle a personal injury claim because every case is different. The institution you are claiming against is also a factor that may affect the timeline.
To get a better sense of how long you can expect your personal injury claim case to take, let’s look at two typical examples.
Time frames of personal injury claims in South Africa
The Road Accident Fund (RAF) has a heavy caseload, and the cases they cover can be very complicated. Claims involving serious injuries can take anywhere from three to six years to finalise.
The RAF will begin investigating a claim once they have registered it on their system. To determine the validity of the claim, they will request supporting documents and medical assessments. They then have 120 days to conduct the investigation, and they may offer a settlement to try and avoid the case going to court at this point. The amount offered is usually much less than the amount a client would be awarded in court, which is why it’s important to hire a personal injury attorney to assist with RAF claims.
You can also speed up the time it takes to process the claim against the RAF by hiring a personal injury lawyer. Here’s why. RAF investigations are seldom completed within 120 days. If there is a delay, your attorney can still issue a summons to inform the RAF that you will be pursuing your claim in court.
Then there are cases against state institutions like the Department of Health. A medical malpractice case can take two to three years to settle and up to five or six years if the case goes to trial. If the defendant decides to settle, it will reduce the time it takes to finalise a claim. But a settlement can only be offered only after court proceedings are already underway.
What causes delays with personal injury claims?
Along the various stages of a personal injury claim, the following can cause delays:
Attorneys representing personal injuries claims rely on the courts to cooperate for us to get a trial date, so this is an essential factor that can impact the process of getting your settlement. If the matter proceeds to trial, you may have to wait between 12 and 24 months to obtain a trial date in some of the High Courts.
Delays occur when the attorney has difficulty obtaining supporting documents from third parties. These could be witnesses, doctors, hospitals or the police. We may need cooperation from the government institutions to provide us with the required documents for us to proceed too. For example, we need to get all of our client’s medical records and scans that the medical practitioners did in the hospital. A trial date may have to be postponed because a police station could not provide the full docket because the case was still under investigation or in court, for example. These delays are all normal, but an experienced personal injury lawyer will have a personal working relationship with many of the role players, which can help speed things up.
In the case of claims against the Road Accident Fund (RAF), there may be a dispute over who caused the accident and responsible for it. There can also be a dispute over the compensation to be granted to the claimant. Disputes are a common cause of delays.
Child victims of personal injury claims
In some cases, the victim’s age is a factor that can delay a personal injury claim. As an example, let’s look at a typical personal injury claim, that in which a baby sustains a brain injury. A neurologist will do an MRI scan to confirm the injury, but it’s impossible to prove the severity of the brain injury because the child isn’t verbal or mobile yet. You can’t assess what damage the baby has sustained and how that will impact their future life. They can only then be adequately assessed by our medical experts. The experts will then be able to predict the language barriers and other disabilities the child will suffer from in the future.
In older children, school records may be a consideration for the courts. If a young child sustains a brain injury in an accident, the compensation due can’t be decided until the child hits typical developmental milestones. To help assess how badly they have been affected by the injury, we need to get the child’s school records pre and post-accident for at least three years. We require this information to prove, with an educational psychologist and an industrial psychologist, why we are making specific claims for the child. We also have to look at the parents’ work history and their education, which are other factors that will impact the claim.
Working with a personal injury lawyer
You can see multiple factors come into play when we are building a claim for a client. The rule of thumb is that the more complex your case is, and the more severe the injuries, and therefore the higher amount you can claim, the longer it will potentially take. There is a risk with claims at the RAF that you could lose out on compensation if your claim is prescribed (becomes legally invalid because too much time has passed). A personal injury lawyer can help process a personal injury claim more quickly because they know the steps and often have working relationships with the institutions or individuals who work there.
Because many personal injury claims in South Africa can take many years to complete, it’s also important to work with a firm that offers you support through the process and communicates regularly with you. While your attorney will not be able to tell you exactly how long the case will take, they will help you access medical support and other necessities while you wait for your payout.