How Long Does a Car Accident Lawsuit Take in California? Everything You Need to Know

how long does a car accident lawsuit take

If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you may be weighing whether or not to file a lawsuit. I know you’re eager to move on with your life, so a long legal battle is probably the last thing you want.

As a personal injury attorney with years of experience in California, clients often ask me – realistically, how long can I expect a car accident lawsuit to take from start to finish?

The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all timeline. Every case has unique complexities that make definitive estimates difficult. But I’m here to walk you through the key stages of the legal process so you know what to anticipate. I’ll also share insider tips on getting your case resolved as efficiently as possible.

The Key Phases of Car Accident Lawsuits

To give you a general idea of the timeline, here are the main phases involved and roughly how long each takes:

Filing the Complaint

Once your attorney has investigated liability, sent a demand letter to the at-fault driver’s insurance company, and settlement talks have stalled, we’ll file a civil complaint in court to get the ball rolling.

Typically, this takes 1-4 weeks. The complaint lays out details of how the accident happened, the injuries and damages suffered, and the compensation being sought.


The discovery process is when each side gathers evidence. It involves taking depositions from parties and witnesses, requesting relevant documents and records, issuing subpoenas to compel cooperation, hiring expert witnesses, and more.

For car accident lawsuits in California, expect the discovery phase to take around 6-12 months, depending on the complexity of issues like the number of vehicles and drivers involved. An experienced attorney has streamlined systems to keep things moving efficiently versus novice lawyers still learning the ropes.

Negotiations & Settlement Talks

After the evidence-gathering stage, your legal team will negotiate with insurance companies and hold settlement conferences to resolve the case before trial. Much back-and-forth is involved around settlement numbers and conditions.

These talks generally last 1-6 months but can easily drag out longer if an insurance company denies reasonable demands or uses delay tactics. Skillful negotiators can often compel faster and fairer settlements.

Trial Prep

If a satisfactory settlement isn’t reached through negotiation, we’ll need to intensively prepare for trial before a judge or jury.

This involves activities like:

  • drafting motions to include or exclude certain evidence
  • interviewing and preparing expert witnesses
  • analyzing testimony
  • creating persuasive exhibits and presentations
  • filing briefs and
  • refining legal arguments

For auto accident cases, plan for 2-8 months of rigorous preparation depending on the legal firepower and cooperation on the other side. An experienced trial attorney leaves no stone unturned.

The Trial

If negotiations fail and the case proceeds to a jury or bench trial, this is the climax after months of buildup. The trial itself typically lasts 1-3 weeks, depending on the court’s calendar, number of witnesses called, length of arguments, and other factors.

Post-Trial Motions

After a verdict is reached, the court may have to rule on additional motions from either side contesting the judgment or seeking additional costs and fees. This final phase usually takes 1-6 months, depending on the complexity of the motions filed.

So, in total, a typical contested car accident lawsuit lasts between 1-2 years from the initial filing through the final resolution. But here’s the kicker…

Factors That Put Your Case in the Fast Lane

While the above timeline covers the basics, the truth is every case has unique variables that impact efficiency.

Here are some key factors that can punch the gas (or hit the brakes):

  • Minor injuries like whiplash or sprains generally speed things up versus catastrophic injuries like brain damage or paralysis, which involve higher stakes.
  • Cases with multiple defendants (drivers) involved in the accident tend to drag out longer as each has separate counsel, discovery, negotiations, etc.
  • Uncooperative insurance companies can stall by denying reasonable settlement demands or delaying providing evidence. This bogs down the timeline.
  • Settlement talks generally happen much faster than taking a case all the way to a jury trial, which adds many months.
  • Strong liability evidence like clear video footage or eyewitness accounts expedites matters by encouraging quicker settlements.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions and unclear accident fault lines muddy the waters and cause delays.

Why You Need an Experienced Car Accident Attorney

Here’s the bottom line. As an experienced personal injury law firm, my team and I have the know-how to make your car accident lawsuit as fast and smooth as possible.

Here are some key ways we can help:

  • We’ll promptly track down police reports, medical records, expert testimony, and other vital evidence so your case doesn’t hit snags.
  • Our reputation for achieving outstanding verdicts and settlements puts pressure on insurance companies to resolve faster.
  • If insurers try to employ delay tactics, we have the litigation skills to prepare an airtight case for trial faster than less seasoned attorneys.
  • We’ll regularly communicate with you to set expectations around timeframes so you feel informed and empowered.

So don’t leave the outcome of your case to chance. Set yourself up for a quicker resolution by calling our office today to schedule a free case review. The sooner we can get started, the faster you can get back to living your life. With years of experience guiding clients through this complex legal process, we’re here to help.

Contact us today.

Author Bio

Barry A. Pasternack

Barry Pasternack brings over three decades of legal experience to his role as the founding attorney at Pasternack Injury Law Group. He holds a J.D. from the esteemed California Western School of Law in San Diego, California, and has been a member of the California State Bar since 1988. Located in downtown San Diego, Barry’s practice serves clients throughout the San Diego region, providing comprehensive guidance and representation.

Barry’s commitment to his clients is unwavering, and your initial consultation is always free of charge. You only pay attorney’s fees when he successfully recovers compensation on your behalf. When you choose Barry Pasternack, you’re selecting a skilled legal professional who will tirelessly fight for your rights and work diligently to help you on your path to recovery.

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