Car accident victims most commonly obtain compensation for their injury through a negotiated settlement. A settlement is an agreement between the claimant and the at-fault party’s insurance provider that compensates the claimant to release the at-fault party and their insurer from any other legal action regarding the claim.
While settlements are typical in the personal injury claims process, they can generally take six months to a year to complete and even longer in particularly complex cases. Here is a look at some of the factors involved in the time it takes to settle a car accident claim.
When you experience injuries in a car accident, you need a car accident attorney on your side who will fight to help you get the compensation you deserve.
What Is the Settlement Process?
When an individual becomes injured in a car accident due to someone else’s negligence, their attorney will investigate the claim to determine all liability sources and associated insurance resources.
Once the attorney appropriately values the claim, they can send a demand to the insurance provider who carries the at-fault party’s policy. The demand includes a request for the claim’s full value, details of the accident that occurred, the injuries, and documentation of those expenses.
The insurance provider will assign the claim to a claims adjuster, a person hired by the insurance company, to determine how much compensation a claimant deserves. The claims adjuster will interview the insured and the claimant, review police reports about the accident, and provide information about the medical care that the claimant has accessed. They can then decide to pay the claim, deny it, or offer a settlement.
Insurance companies and their attorneys tend to prefer to settle claims out-of-court than risk the expense of litigation on an outcome that they have no control over. Suppose the claims adjuster fails to pay the claim or make a settlement offer that fairly compensates you. In that case, you want litigation as an option.
The Statute of Limitations and Filing the Claim in Court
The statute of limitations for a personal injury claim involves the maximum amount of time a claimant has to file their claim in court to use the court process to obtain compensation for their injuries. For example, in New York, the statute of limitations for most claims involving personal injury is three years from the accident. In New Jersey and Connecticut, personal injury claimants generally have two years to file a lawsuit in their case.
The statute of limitations impacts the length of time it takes to settle in several ways, such as:
- If you file the claim after the statute of limitations expired, you cannot use the court to seek compensation. Without the threat of litigation, the insurance provider will never negotiate a settlement.
- If you file the claim during settlement negotiations, you may push the claims adjuster to take settlement negotiations more seriously to avoid the expense of litigation.
The statute of limitations only requires that you file the claim within that deadline, not that you must resolve it by then. You can receive and accept settlements after you file the claim in court and even during the trial.
Whether an Attorney Is Involved with the Claim
Individuals who opt to pursue compensation without the assistance of a personal injury attorney can receive a settlement offer, and even a quick one, in many cases. However, these offers are often a fraction of the claim’s value. Accepting an offer without knowing the value of your claim risks receiving too little compensation to cover the expenses and impacts you will experience from your injury.
Insurance providers bank on offering a quick settlement to unrepresented claimants, as many don’t know how to evaluate a personal injury claim or what compensation they deserve for their injury. It resolves the claim before the claimant brings an attorney on board and begins providing knowledge to the client about how much their case is worth.
Reaching Maximum Medical Improvement
Most car accident attorneys will wait to value a claim until their client has reached maximum medical improvement, similar to what is required when considering a workers’ compensation claim. Maximum medical improvement is the point in treating an injury where the physician determines that the injured person’s condition has likely improved as much as it will, even if treatments were to continue.
Personal injury attorneys wait until their clients have reached maximum medical improvement before valuing their claim because this is when the attorney can have the most accurate picture of your expenses. This also allows time to determine how the injury has affected the claimant’s quality of life.
This recovery point can take months to reach. Delaying establishing a value of the claim also delays submitting a demand to the insurance provider, which delays the offering of a settlement.
One of the many tasks of a claims adjuster when evaluating a demand submitted by a personal injury attorney for compensation of injuries caused by the insured is determining that the insured is, in fact, liable for the accident.
Suppose there is any indication that the claimant could share some liability for the accident. In that case, the insurance company will want to reduce the claim to reflect that shared liability. Claims adjusters often engage in other activities to reduce a claim’s value for liability reasons, including asking the claimant to provide them with a recorded statement that they can use to illustrate slight changes in the claimant’s account of the accident.
Another common insurance tactic about liability is getting clients who an attorney doesn’t assist in agreeing to authorize the release of all medical records. They search these records with a fine-tooth comb for the presence of pre-existing conditions that could be to blame for the pain the claimant is currently experiencing. An insurance provider needs to see only a limited number of medical records, and there is rarely any reason to release all records to them.
An attorney can protect their client’s claim by managing communication with the claims adjuster, refusing to provide recorded statements and the release of entire medical histories.
The Medical Treatment Provided
Another way claims adjusters working for an at-fault party’s insurance provider can reduce the claim’s value and extend the time it takes to settle by arguing about the necessity of the medical treatment the claimant received for their injuries.
The most common targets of claims reductions are “soft” medical expenses such as chiropractic services provided by someone who is not a medical doctor. Attorneys are often required to produce additional documentation in such circumstances to show the necessity of the treatment received to improve the claimant’s overall recovery.
Disagreements on the Provisions of the Settlement
Often, a claimant will verbally accept the amount of compensation included in a settlement offer but will disagree with other offer provisions, such as control over whether the claimant can publicly discuss the case or whether the at-fault party provides written acknowledgment of liability in the settlement. While these issues seem minor, they can result in more time to finalize the agreement.
Finalizing the Agreement
Whether to accept an offered settlement is the claimant’s decision to make. While an attorney can offer guidance, advice, and wisdom based on their experience with and knowledge of the personal injury claims process, they cannot decide on their client’s behalf. However, suppose a client verbally agrees to a settlement offer. In that case, the attorney can indicate to the insurance provider that the offer was accepted, and paperwork can make the agreement official.
Upon accepting a settlement offer, the claimant must sign a waiver, releasing the at-fault party and their insurer from any further liability resulting from the accident and injuries experienced. Payment on the settlement can not be processed until the documents have been signed and returned. If you already filed the claim in court when you accepted the agreement, you will dismiss the pending case against the at-fault party.
Once you finalize the settlement agreement, the at-fault party’s insurance provider will process the claim and issue payment. This part of the process can take up to six weeks to complete. The check will be endorsed to both the claimant and their attorney and sent directly to the attorney.
Because personal injury attorneys generally work on a contingent fee basis, the lawyers will deduct their payment from the compensation. If that agreement obligates the attorney to satisfy medical liens placed on the settlement by health insurance or healthcare providers, the attorney will pay them.
Once the attorney has met all their contractual obligations, they will meet with the client to finalize the case and sign paperwork. The claimant will receive the remainder of the compensation.
Patience With the Process
One of the biggest factors in the time it takes to settle a car accident claim is the claimant’s patience with the process. It is not difficult to receive a settlement offer from the at-fault party’s insurer.
As explained above, settlement offers come right after the injury to claimants who don’t have an attorney. However, obtaining a settlement that fairly compensates the claimant for their injuries can take time and negotiation.
Individuals who are patient while their attorneys seek the maximum amount of compensation available for their claim often have to wait longer to resolve the matter but are awarded more when the claim settles, as it was properly valued, and they u
nderstand how to derive that value.
Their attorney has protected the value of their claim by managing communications with the insurer and the litigation deadline.
Contact a Car Accident Attorney Today
If you suffered injuries in an auto accident you need an experienced an experience car accident attorney to help put together your claim package, negotiate with the insurance company, and seek the compensation you deserve.
Contact Jacoby & Meyers, LLP, today at (718) 294-0813 to fill out a free case evaluation form. We will match you with our experienced Bronx car accident lawyers on our legal team who will help determine your eligibility to file a claim.
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Review by: Carolina V.
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