No car accident is the same, and, as a result, no car accident settlement is the same. Many factors can affect the time it takes to settle a car accident case, including liability, evidence, and other elements. With a better understanding of your specific case, you’ll be able to determine how much time the settlement process requires more accurately.
Knowing the different aspects of your case and the settlement process will give you an idea of the timeline to expect with your settlement. Having an experienced car accident attorney on your side can help expedite the legal process.
Types of Compensation You May Recover in a Car Accident Settlement
Following a car accident, there are different types of compensation that you may recover from liable parties. The main types of damages in these cases could include economic, non-economic, and punitive damages, all of which may affect the total length of your case. The more damages there are, the more complex the case will be and, subsequently, the longer the case may take to settle.
The primary type of damage in car accident cases and other types of accident cases is economic. Some refer to these damages as special or monetary damages. These apply to the calculable financial losses resulting from an accident and another party’s negligence. In many accident cases, it’s easy to quantify these damages, however the more damages there are, the more difficult it is to identify them all.
Many types of economic damages occur in a car accident case, including:
- Medical expenses resulting from immediate and ongoing treatment
- Property damage, including vehicle damage and damaged personal belongings
- Rehabilitation and physical therapy
- Modifications made to the home, including ramps for wheelchair accessibility
- Lost income resulting from time taken off from work during recovery
- Lost earning capacity resulting from a temporary or permanent disability
Non-economic damages in other words, general or non-monetary damages are not as easily defined as economic damages because of the victim’s subjective experience. These damages pertain to victims’ pain and suffering following an accident and injuries. While they aren’t as straightforward as economic damages, there are ways to calculate them and count them toward a car accident settlement.
Examples of non-economic damages in car accident cases may include:
- Physical pain from the injuries
- Mental anguish
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
An experienced car accident lawyer can help determine which non-economic damages apply to your case and how they’ll impact your settlement amount. When identifying these damages, car accident victims should maintain pain journals documenting their experience following an accident and throughout recovery. These journals can include details about how the individual feels and provide evidence of any pain and suffering experienced.
Car accidents may also lead to punitive damages if the accident involves acts of gross negligence or malicious intent. The court will award these separately from compensatory damages to punish the defendant and discourage similar occurrences. Most cases end during the settlement process and don’t result in punitive damages, but a lawyer can determine whether these damages apply to your case.
A lawyer experienced in handling car accident cases can help you have a better chance of calculating all relevant damages and including them in your requested settlement. This clarity can sometimes accelerate the settlement process.
Injury Severity and Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
Car accident victims often recover for a certain period after the accident. As they recover, they’ll accumulate medical bills and be able to gauge better what kind of expenses they’ll face in the short or long term. However, it’s difficult to determine precisely how much these costs will be until you reach what doctors call maximum medical improvement (MMI), which is the point at which you’ve recovered as much as possible.
Once you reach MMI, medical professionals can determine what additional treatment you need or decide that your treatment is no longer necessary. If you have a permanent disability because of an accident, you may need treatment and ongoing care for the rest of your life, and you may no longer be able to work at all or in the same capacity as before the accident. Once you reach MMI, a lawyer can ultimately help determine how any lasting effects may influence your settlement.
Depending on how many witnesses saw the accident and provided you or the police with their information, gathering witness statements can take a long time. You or your lawyer will have to seek out these witnesses and question them about the accident and what they saw, with witness statements potentially serving as critical evidence to support your case.
If many witnesses are involved, the interview process alone can take several months, as you must contact all of them and arrange a time to meet and discuss the accident.
Insurance carriers don’t want to foot the bill for costly accidents and may work to either diminish settlement amounts or deny insurance claims. You or your lawyer must present a good case that helps you recover the full settlement amount.
Regardless of how friendly an insurance adjuster may seem during negotiations, it’s important to remember that they’re allegiance is to the insurance company. They work for insurers and will look for any valid reason they can to reduce your compensation or reject your case. In some cases, they might delay the process and wait long periods before making any offers. Even if an insurance company makes an appealing first offer, it may be far less than what you deserve.
Insurance companies can intentionally delay negotiations to avoid paying out, but working to negotiate a fair settlement can also involve a lengthy process. Working with a lawyer, you may have a better shot at accelerating negotiations and ensuring you get full compensation in your settlement.
What Are the Steps Involved in a Car Accident Settlement Process?
After a car accident occurs and victims decide they want to file a claim or lawsuit for compensation, there’s a long process involved that can take months or even years to complete. The specific amount of time it takes to settle will vary depending on the factors involved in your case and its overall complexity.
The following are the basic steps involved in the car accident settlement process and what you can expect with each. However, the process could change based on the specifics of your case.
1. Seeking Medical Care
Immediately after the accident or soon afterward, you should seek medical treatment to begin the recovery process if you sustained any injuries. Even if your injuries seem minor, they may develop into more serious conditions later.
The sooner you seek treatment for your injuries, the sooner you can begin recovering and generating medical records that could help support your claim. Remember, insurance companies will look for any reason they can find to deny or significantly reduce a settlement, including delayed medical records potentially indicating that injuries didn’t result from the accident or aren’t as severe as the victim claims.
When seeking treatment, it’s also important to follow your doctor’s advice. Failure to take any prescription medications or adhere to other treatments could further indicate to insurers that your injuries aren’t serious. You should follow all treatments until you reach maximum medical improvement and you fully recover. If you have any issues with your treatments, let your doctor know so they can make the necessary adjustments.
Generally, it may take as long as several months to make a full recovery and determine how medical bills will influence compensation.
2. Consulting a Lawyer
You can determine if you have a case that will benefit from representation by speaking with a lawyer in a free evaluation. During this meeting, you can discuss the nature of your case and present any evidence you currently have. The lawyer will assess your case and determine what options you have when it comes to seeking compensation.
If the lawyer decides to take on your case, they will then begin collecting and organizing all relevant evidence, calculating medical expenses and other costs, and determining a final settlement amount to pursue. This process can take several months to complete, but the more valuable evidence you have, the less time it will take to build a case.
3. Writing and Sending a Demand Letter
After reaching MMI and gathering as much evidence as possible to support your claim, you and your lawyer can begin drafting a demand letter to send to liable parties and their insurance companies. The demand letter will detail the specifics of the accident and identify the specific compensation you wish to receive for your injuries and other damages.
You will want to give the other party a minimum of a few weeks to respond to the letter. The negotiation process may then begin.
4. Filing a Lawsuit
If negotiations don’t result in a settlement, it may be time to file a lawsuit against the liable party. This starts with a complaint filed against the defendants in the case. Even if a case turns from a claim into a lawsuit, you may still settle out of court and avoid trial.
5. The Discovery Process
The next phase will entail discovery, which involves both parties obtaining all documentation related to the case, assessing the damages involved, and making their arguments. This is a potentially lengthy process that can take as long as a year.
6. Final Negotiations
After the discovery process, your lawyer can continue negotiating with the liable party and further attempt to reach a favorable settlement. In some cases, mediation or arbitration may help resolve the case more effectively.
7. Trial Process
The case may go to trial if both parties cannot agree after negotiations. The trial process in a car accident case will vary in length depending on the specifics involved.
8. Recovering a Settlement
If you settle your case, the liable party will typically provide you with your first settlement check within a month of closing negotiations or completing the trial process.
Consult a Reputable Car Accident Lawyer to Discuss Your Case
The settlement process involves various steps and can take over a year. Still, you may accelerate the process with the help of a knowledgeable car accident lawyer.
By consulting a lawyer with experience handling car accident cases, you can determine what the process will look like for you and what kind of settlement you may recover.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.