According to numerous studies, approximately 95% of personal injury cases are settled out of court. In general, the settlement process, which is faster and less costly than a trial, provides a more expedient way for victims to receive compensation. Therefore, if you are injured in a car accident and file a claim against the at-fault driver, it is likely your case will be settled without a trial. Like most plaintiffs, you may wonder how long it will take to receive your settlement. This time period is determined by a variety of factors. Here is a guide to the legal procedures and other considerations that influence the timeline of a car accident settlement.
Because every accident claim involves different circumstances, there is no universal timeline that applies to every situation. Nonetheless, on average, it takes approximately 8 to 16 months from the date a case is started until a plaintiff receives a final settlement payment. However, this is only an average. Some cases may settle faster, or, when a victim sustains severe or permanent injuries, the time frame is often longer. If a case goes to trial, it could take two years or more to achieve a resolution.
While every case is different, here are the basic steps involved in settling most car accident claims:
It is important to seek immediate as well as follow-up medical treatment after being injured in a car accident. Failing to do this may cast doubt on the seriousness of your injuries if you subsequently file a claim against the at-fault driver and injury claims are more difficult to prove without medical documentation.
Do this as soon as possible, before making any statements to an insurance adjuster or signing any insurance forms. A good lawyer will guide you through the legal process and handle the necessary paperwork and other components of your case so you can focus on recovering from your injuries. Most importantly, having an experienced attorney on your side significantly increases your likelihood of receiving the compensation you deserve.
Your car accident attorney gathers detailed information about your case, including your background and medical history. This may include interviewing witnesses, reviewing police reports and obtaining and evaluating medical records. Additionally, it may be necessary to request records regarding your current injuries as well as any past treatment for a similar condition that may have existed before the accident. At the same time, the other driver’s insurer will conduct their own investigation.
The insurance company may make an initial settlement offer, which is typically far below what most victims need and deserve to compensate them for their losses. Depending on the situation, your attorney may make a counter offer before proceeding to the next step.
Your legal team prepares a “demand package” that is sent to the other driver’s insurance company. This package includes a complete description of your injuries and how your life has been affected by the accident. Long-term consequences, physical and emotional, as well as future costs for medical care and lost wages are also detailed. Finally, your attorney will specify the amount of compensation you are seeking in light of the information contained in the package.
It may take a few months for the at-fault driver’s insurer to respond to the demand package. Sometimes, the insurance company rejects the demand outright, claiming the driver they represent was not at fault. Or, the insurer may make a counter offer that is usually lower than the amount in the demand letter. Depending on how far apart the offers are, your lawyer may try to persuade the insurance company to increase its offer through a series of back-and-forth negotiations.
If the offer is still insufficient, your attorney may recommend filing a lawsuit against the at-fault driver and/or their insurance company. While taking this step may prolong the legal process, it often motivates the other party to increase their offer in order to settle the case without a trial.
During this stage, each party gathers information about the other side’s claims regarding the accident. The discovery process includes written questions (called interrogatories) that each party must answer. In addition, the lawyers on both sides take depositions (testimony under oath) of the drivers as well as relevant witnesses. The at-fault driver’s insurer will also request the complete medical records of the victim.
Insurance companies usually want to avoid a trial, which is costly and time-consuming. Therefore, simply knowing the victim’s attorney is prepared to go to court may be enough to motivate the insurer to increase its settlement offer. Sometimes the parties use an outside mediator to assist in the negotiations. Many cases are settled during this phase of the legal process.
If the parties still cannot reach an agreement, the victim’s lawyer may decide to proceed to trial where a judge and/or jury will hear the case and render a verdict. While this can add months or even years to the timeline, a jury award may lead to higher compensation if the amount offered during the negotiation process is too low. An experienced car accident lawyer is the right person to determine whether going to trial will achieve the greatest financial outcome.
This is an important decision that depends on the individual circumstances of a case. In this instance, the advice of a reputable car accident attorney is invaluable. Lawyers who handle many car accident claims know whether an out-of-court settlement or a trial will accomplish the best result.
Bringing a case to trial may involve additional costs such as court costs, filing fees and expert witnesses.. Nevertheless, jury trials can result in significantly higher verdicts than the amount offered in pre-trial settlement negotiations. Also, if a plaintiff is successful at trial, there is a chance that some of these costs will be reimbursed by the defendant.
However, when a case goes to trial, the plaintiff risks winding up with nothing if the case is decided in favor of the defendant. In addition, even if a jury awards more than the amount previously offered, a plaintiff could end up with less after the trial expenses are deducted from the verdict.
There are several factors that can cause a delay in settling a car accident case. In some situations, a delay is predictable, such as when multiple vehicles are involved in a crash. However, many delays are caused by unexpected issues that come up while the case is in progress.
The time it takes to resolve a case can be months or years longer than average when the following circumstances are present:
In serious injury cases, a lawyer may postpone a settlement until the extent of the victim’s damages are known. When medical treatment is ongoing, it can be hard to accurately estimate the cost of future care and/or lost wages.
Accident claims involving more than two auto insurance companies and multiple victims who may have different medical benefits are more complex and time-consuming than standard two-car crashes. Obtaining complete medical records for each victim can take several months, especially if some are still undergoing treatment. Additionally, extensive investigation is usually required to determine who is at fault and to what degree.
Here are some additional reasons a settlement may take longer than anticipated:
Recommended Reading: What Evidence Do You Need to Win Your Michigan Car Accident Case?
Car accident victims should never accept a settlement offer without first consulting a qualified attorney. Insurance adjusters often make an initial offer before the victim has spoken to a lawyer or had a complete medical evaluation. Consequently, this offer is typically far less than the claim is worth.
Winning the compensation a victim deserves involves a negotiation process that can go on for months or years. Unfortunately, a victim who wants to avoid a lengthy legal process may jump at the idea of a quick infusion of cash. However, an experienced accident lawyer knows when an insurance company is “lowballing” in the early stages of a claim.
And, once a settlement agreement is signed, victims lose the right to seek additional damages if their injuries turn out to be more extensive. Therefore, always talk to an accident attorney before talking to an adjuster or signing any insurance papers.
For a plaintiff who suffered serious physical and emotional harm, a lengthy car accident lawsuit can be emotionally draining. Understandably, most victims want their claims resolved as quickly as possible so they can put the experience behind them and focus on healing. Moreover, many plaintiffs need the settlement money to cover medical bills and other expenses they incurred as a result of the accident.
To be sure, learning that their case has settled for a sizable amount of money is good news to a plaintiff. However, even after the parties reach an agreement, it may take several weeks to receive a check.
First, the defendant’s insurance company has to finalize its paperwork before issuing a check for the agreed-upon amount. Then, the victim’s attorney has to itemize the out-of-pocket expenses that were paid up front so they can be deducted from the plaintiff’s final check. These costs may include charges for obtaining medical records and deposition transcripts as well as expert witness fees. The plaintiff’s attorney will review all of the paperwork from the insurance company to make sure that the victims rights are adequately protected. Then, after the plaintiff has signed all of the necessary settlement documents, the plaintiff’s attorney will exchange those signed documents for the settlement check.
If you or a loved one is injured in a car accident, we can help. Our knowledgeable legal team knows what it takes to win your case, and we have the expertise and resources to win the compensation you and your family deserve.
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