If you have been in an accident and you have hired an attorney to handle your claim, you may wonder, “how long does it take to settle a car accident claim?” The answer is that it may take months or it may take years. This is going to be dependent on many factors that will be unique to your particular case. In this article, we will review the basic timeline of a car accident claim.
Phase 1: Medical Treatment
Ideally, you will complete the medical treatment you need to get back to as close to 100% as possible. Often clients wonder why nothing is happening in their case. Usually it is because the attorney is waiting to see how you are doing once you complete medical treatment. Assume your doctor prescribes you six months of physical therapy for injuries sustained in an accident. If the attorney settled the case before you completed treatment, there would be no money left for you to get additional treatment if the first six months were not successful in getting you back to where you were before the accident.
If your injuries are permanent and will never resolve regardless of how much treatment you get, the attorney needs to know before he presents your claim to the adjuster. The attorney cannot wait too long, however, or he risks blowing the statute of limitations for your claim. Therefore, you may still be in treatment when litigation begins in your claim.
Phase 2: Medical Records Requests
If you are able to complete treatment in reasonable amount of time, then the next step is for the attorney to request your medical records from the providers. To accomplish this you will sign what is known as a HIPAA authorization. The HIPAA authorization says you have given the attorney permission to see your medical records. Unfortunately, the medical providers almost completely control the length of this process.. Some can take weeks – or even months, in the case of some major hospitals – to get the records back to the requesting attorney.
There is other evidence that the attorney may also want to collect at this time, such as your lost wages.
Phase 3: Making a Demand
After the attorney collects all of the evidence, she will draft a demand package to send to the insurance adjuster. The demand package will include all of the relevant medical evidence, the lost wages, and any other pertinent information the attorney thinks is relevant to your case. There will also be a letter drafted by the attorney that does three things:
- Summarizes your damages.
- Explains why the other party is liable for those damages.
- States a demand for payment for the amount your attorney thinks the case is worth.
Phase 4: Negotiations
When the insurance company receives the demand, often the adjuster will try to delay an offer. Once the attorney overcomes these attempts, the adjuster makes a counter-offer on the demand, which is less than what the attorney originally requested. At this point, the attorney will contact you to discuss the offer made by the adjuster. You should keep in mind that any settlement amount will be in exchange for a release of all claims against the insurance company for damages resulting from this accident. By the end of your conversation, the attorney will know the settlement amount he is aiming for.
What then follows is a negotiation between the adjuster and the attorney. Both sides will go back and forth until they either reach a mutually agreeable settlement amount, or conclude that there can be no middle ground.
Phase 5: Filing a Lawsuit
If the attorney is unable to settle the case at this point, the only option left is to sue the other party. A lawsuit begins by filing a petition in the court of proper jurisdiction. The attorney then must locate the driver who hit you in the accident. A process server then serves the papers on the negligent driver. This can take longer than expected because sometimes the other driver is difficult to locate.
Once the other party is served, the game is afoot, so to speak. The Defendant will file their answer, usually within four weeks of service, and then both sides will begin to conduct discovery. During this time, your attorney will probably contact you with several questions he needs you to answer and verify, called interrogatories. He may also have a list of documents or other items he will need you to help him get.
At some time, the attorneys will likely ask both parties to give depositions. Also, the court often requires mediation, where both sides give one last effort to work out a settlement before going to trial.
Phase 6: Trial and Judgment
During all of this, the parties may settle at any time. If, however, you are unable to resolve the lawsuit, the final step is to have a trial. The trial will most likely be months, if not years after your attorney filed the petition. At the trial, the attorneys will present evidence to the jury. At the conclusion of it all, the jury will determine who is right and who is wrong. If the jury determines that you are right, they will decide how much money the insurance company owes you and pronounce that total in their verdict.
Believe it or not, your attorney still has more work to do before he can give you a check. She must draft the final judgment and calculate court costs and interest the other side will pay. Another hearing may even be needed to determine how much the final total will be.
As you can see, when somebody calls our office and asks, “How long does it take to settle a car accident claim?” it can be difficult to give them a simple answer. If you would like to see the answer to other questions involving car accident claims, such as how long you have to settle your car accident claim, then feel free to browse our other blogs.