After a motor vehicle accident, you may feel overwhelmed, stressed, and unsure of what to expect when attempting to settle your legal claim. You likely have medical bills piling up, lost income, and significant property damages to deal with, not to mention physical and emotional trauma from the accident itself.
Amidst this chaos, you may wonder how long a car accident settlement actually takes. Many victims ask this question, since the time it takes to reach a settlement directly affects their financial stability and overall well-being.
In this guide, we provide you with clear information regarding this question by discussing the factors affecting the timeline of automobile accident settlements and how an experienced car accident attorney can move the process along as quickly as possible while going after the maximum compensation you deserve.
Car Accident Settlement Guide
- Reporting the Accident and the Investigation Process
- Medical Treatment and Evaluation
- Determining Liability After the Car Crash
- Watch Out for Unfair Settlement Offers
- What Do Settlement Negotiations Involve?
- Taking Your Case in Front of a Judge or Jury
- Contact an Experienced Car Accident Attorney Today to Discuss Your Case for Free
Medical Treatment and Evaluation
One of the most important steps after a car accident is seeking medical attention immediately. Your health and safety should be your top priority, regardless of your desire to settle your claim quickly. Treatment for injuries following accidents may take several weeks, months, or longer, depending on the severity. While the period of medical care will inevitably extend the timeline of your settlement, pursuing appropriate treatment and evaluation of your injuries forms the basis for determining fair compensation.
Your doctor and treatment providers will evaluate the nature and extent of your injuries and provide a diagnosis, prognosis, and recommended treatment plan. Medical records, bills, tests, and reports will serve as evidence of your injuries and bills for which you may claim damages in your settlement. Consequently, you should not try to settle your claim until you have completed treatment and professionals evaluate you for any permanent injuries.
While the uncertainty of medical recovery or permanent disability understandably adds stress to the settlement process, try to be patient while focusing on your health.
Let your lawyer handle communications with the insurance company and keep them updated on your treatment and evaluations to ensure the inclusion of all medical records and bills for consideration in your settlement.
Recovering damages related to ongoing and future medical costs requires thorough evidence and negotiation, which often extends the timeline but leads to a better settlement result.
Determining Liability After the Car Crash
Establishing liability for causing a car accident is a critical issue that influences both the timeline and outcome of your settlement. Insurance companies conduct liability investigations to determine whether their insured client bears full or partial responsibility for the crash. If the parties dispute liability, settlement negotiations cannot begin until they resolve this matter.
Liability hinges on several factors, including adherence to traffic laws, dangerous or inattentive driving behaviors, vehicle defects, road conditions, weather issues, and witness testimony.
Police reports, eyewitness accounts, and forensic analysis of the accident scene are used to establish liability. The more complex the crash and the greater the number of parties involved, the longer it takes to determine liability conclusively.
When liability is clear-cut, with evidence proving the other driver's culpability, negotiations may proceed quickly. However, if there are doubts about responsibility or the percentage of fault, defense lawyers work to minimize their client's liability. As a result, proving the other party bears majority or total liability is essential to obtaining fair compensation, even if it lengthens the settlement timeline.
Watch Out for Unfair Settlement Offers
While you may want to assume that the insurance company will try to get you the fair amount you deserve, in truth, this is often the last thing they want to happen. Like other businesses, these companies want to make a profit. The less insurance companies pay in claims, the more money they make. As a result, they will try everything they can to hinder your ability to secure money.
For these reasons, never accept an early settlement offer from the other driver's insurer before your car accident lawyer formally establishes liability. Their first offer is usually low, hoping you are eager to settle quickly. With the help of your car accident lawyer, stand firm in building a case proving maximum liability against the other party before agreeing to a settlement.
While determining liability can take time, the outcome directly affects the compensation you receive, so patience at this stage will pay off in the end.
When there is a formal decision on liability, whether through insurance investigations or litigation, settlement discussions can begin in earnest. Securing an admission of full liability from the other party lays the groundwork for a fair settlement in your favor.
Though the process may have seemed lengthy, establishing liability signals you are finally on the path to just compensation.
What Do Settlement Negotiations Involve?
The settlement stage of the claims process aims to reach an agreement on the amount of compensation paid for your damages and injuries. Your lawyer and the other party's insurance company will negotiate directly or through formal mediation if initial talks stall.
The timeline for settlement negotiations can vary, depending on:
- The complexity of the case: More severe injuries, higher medical bills, and multiple parties or insurance companies involved typically require lengthy negotiations.
- Willingness to compromise: If the two sides start far apart in their demands and offers, it takes time to meet in the middle at a fair settlement amount. Your lawyer can advise you on reasonable compensation based on the details of your case.
- Use of litigation pressure: In some cases, filing a personal injury lawsuit against the other party may stimulate their insurer to make a serious settlement offer to avoid further litigation costs. Even if litigation does not proceed, the threat of court action often motivates parties to resolve the matter at mediation.
- Other factors: In addition, your statements and actions, financial losses and expenses, pre-existing conditions, the evidence presented, the insurance coverage available, and the post-accident lifestyle can also play a significant role in how long settlement negotiations will take.
Throughout negotiations, be prepared for a frustrating process of back-and-forth between the parties. The insurance company routinely makes initial low offers hoping for a quick settlement. Your lawyer can recommend countering at the high end of the reasonable range for your specific case. With each round of offers and counteroffers, the amounts come closer together, but multiple exchanges may be needed before settling at a fair amount that covers all your damages and provides compensation for pain and suffering as well.
Taking Your Case in Front of a Judge or Jury
If settlement negotiations fail to produce a fair agreement, your case may proceed to litigation in the civil court. Lawsuits aim to resolve legal disputes through official court proceedings, including a trial before a judge and jury if needed. While litigation should always be a last resort, some insurance companies refuse to negotiate reasonably unless faced with court action.
Since the litigation process can be lengthy, complicated, and expensive, most people do not take the decision to file a personal injury lawsuit lightly. However, in some cases, it is the only way to force a fair settlement and obtain just compensation for your damages. Your lawyer can advise whether litigation is in your best interests.
The litigation timeline varies significantly depending on the court's schedule and the complexity of the case.
The following stages may take six to 18 months or longer to complete:
- Filing a complaint: Your lawyer files a legal complaint in court alleging the negligence and liability of the other party. They must respond within a certain period, usually 30 days.
- Discovery: Both sides exchange information and evidence related to the case. This includes documents, witness depositions, medical records, accident reports, and demands for physical inspection of vehicles or locations involved.
- Pre-trial motions: Your lawyer and the defense may file motions to include or limit certain evidence or testimony for presentation at trial. The judge rules on which motions will be allowed.
- Trial: If pre-trial motions do not resolve the case, it proceeds to trial. A judge or jury hears testimony and reviews evidence to determine liability and decide compensation and damages awarded to the plaintiff (injured party).
- Post-trial motions and appeals: Either party can challenge the court's decision by filing post-trial motions or appeals, which continue the litigation and delay the final settlement.
While litigation severely frustrates many clients, it moves slowly and methodically by design based on legal procedure. Trust your lawyer to navigate the litigation process efficiently while you focus on what matters most, your recovery and healing.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Attorney Today to Discuss Your Case for Free
The timeline for reaching a car accident settlement can vary greatly depending on the details of your case and the willingness of the involved parties to negotiate. Fortunately, with experienced legal counsel fighting on your behalf, you will not have to go through this process alone.
When you retain these legal professionals, they can determine not only whether you have a viable case and the legal options you can pursue, but they can also:
- Handle the investigation process and look for evidence that can help show what happened and who was at fault for the crash.
- Hold all the liable parties accountable for the injuries and losses you suffered.
- Ensure that motions and files are submitted before the statute of limitations expires.
- Bring in experts who can help validate your legal claims, such as doctors, financial specialists, and accident reconstructionist specialists.
- Handle settlement negotiations with the other side and fight for a just settlement offer.
- Determine if proceeding to trial is necessary, especially if the other side refuses to provide the settlement amount you need, and go after maximum compensation.
- Collect the money that the other parties owe you.
While the process is often lengthy and frustrating, understanding the factors that influence the duration and outcomes at each stage helps set reasonable expectations.
With patience and persistence, you can achieve fair compensation for your damages, though it may not always happen according to your desired schedule. For more information regarding the car accident settlement process, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today for your free case evaluation.
Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers
12777 Jones Rd
Houston, TX 77070