Waiting for the car accident settlement process to play out is undeniably frustrating. You have medical bills piling up, you need to fix or replace your car, and every day away from work costs you money. All you want is for the process to end so you can move on with your life.
As aggravating as it is to wait for an insurance company to pay your claim, recovering maximum compensation requires patience. Insurance companies leverage impatience to safeguard their profits, as they know desperate claimants will accept a smaller settlement to cut their losses. Still, you should not have to make do with less simply to move on with your life.
Just how long will you have to wait to get the settlement offer you deserve? Keep reading to learn more about the timeline of a car accident settlement and how a car accident attorney can help with your case.
The Basic Steps in a Car Accident Settlement
If you want to know why a car accident settlement takes so long, it helps to understand the basic steps in the settlement process. While not every settlement follows each of these steps, the following timeline should give you a better idea of what you can expect.
Hire an Attorney
The first thing you should do after an accident, apart from seeking medical attention, is to speak with an attorney. Most good attorneys offer free consultations, during which they will review your case, advise you on your options, and explain what they can do to help. While no law requires you to work with an attorney, experienced legal representation can help you maximize your compensation and expedite the claims process.
Before you file an insurance claim or lawsuit, your lawyer must investigate the accident and gather evidence. To recover maximum compensation for your injuries, your attorney needs evidence showing someone else caused the crash and proof of any injuries you sustained.
Police accident reports, eyewitness accounts, photos from the crash scene, surveillance footage, expert testimony, and other evidence can bolster your case for compensation.
Identifying the Liable Parties
Your attorney’s investigation should help them identify everyone who is potentially liable a legal term meaning responsible for your injuries. In most car accident cases, the other driver is the one against whom you file an insurance claim or lawsuit.
But in some circumstances, another party may bear sole responsibility for the accident or share it with the other driver. Other potentially liable parties in a car accident case include automakers, parts manufacturers, construction companies, and government agencies.
Documenting Your Losses
One of the keys to maximizing compensation in a car accident settlement is thorough documentation of all the harm you have suffered. An insurance settlement can include compensation for any losses related to an accident, from physical pain and emotional distress to damaged property and lost income. Without solid proof of your losses, though, you could end up settling for less money than you deserve.
Filing an Insurance Claim
At this point, you and your lawyer should have everything necessary to file an insurance claim. Your attorney will submit a demand letter to the insurance company outlining the basic facts of the crash, your losses from the accident, and how much you are asking for in compensation. It is vital that everything you include in your claim is correct and filled out correctly. A car accident attorney can handle the details of filing an insurance claim.
This step is often the longest part of a car accident claim. The insurance company wants to pay you as little as they can get away with, while you need to make sure whatever they offer is sufficient for your needs, as you cannot go back for more once you sign an agreement.
It may take weeks or months of intense negotiations before your lawyer and the insurance company can reach an agreement. The insurance company will likely send an adjuster to assess the case before they approve a claim. Stay calm and listen to your attorney no matter how long settlement negotiations take.
The Insurance Company Settles Your Claim, or You File a Lawsuit
If you reach a deal, the insurance company will pay your claim as a settlement, usually as either a single lump sum or in regular payments over time. But if the insurance company will not make a reasonable offer, you may need to take your case to court to compel the insurer to pay you what it owes you.
If you file a lawsuit, the next step in your case is discovery. This step is when both sides exchange whatever evidence they have gathered to narrow the issues at stake. Depending on how complex the case is, discovery can take several weeks or months.
Trials are time-consuming and expensive, and the courts can only handle so many cases at a time. To avoid overburdening the courts, you and your attorney may go through mediation with the insurance company and its defense team. Mediation is a faster and cheaper alternative to a trial, and getting outside the confines of a courtroom can help both sides find a solution in a deadlocked case.
If mediation fails, it is time to take your case to trial. It is important to understand the risks involved in a civil court case and to have a solid strategy in place. A loss in court, while appealable, effectively ends your case. Because trials can be risky, your lawyer should also present you with other options.
How Long Do Car Accident Settlements Usually Take?
Every car accident case is different, but most conclude within a few weeks or months unless they go to trial. A case that goes to court could take several months or even years before you recover any compensation. Your lawyer can give you a better idea of how long your case might take after reviewing the circumstances.
What Factors Make a Car Accident Settlement Take Longer?
Here are some common factors that affect the timeline of a car accident settlement.
The Severity of Your Injuries
Severe injuries lead to expensive medical bills, increasing the value of your claim. Furthermore, more severe injuries are more likely to cause long-term or permanent disabilities that could affect your ability to work and care for yourself. The more money you ask for from the insurance company, the likelier it is to drag its feet to see if you will accept a lower settlement offer. Insurers also evaluate more expensive claims more thoroughly, which can make the process take longer.
How Much Money You Lost
If you missed a day or two of work after an accident and your injuries will heal without long-term complications, an insurer is more likely to approve your claim quickly. But if your injuries put you in the hospital for several weeks or leave you with a permanent disability, you can expect an insurance company to take more time with your case. The more money is at stake, the more scrutiny an insurer will give your claim.
Questions Over Fault
The greater doubt there is over who is at fault for the accident, the longer your case will take to resolve. The insurance company could avoid paying your claim by successfully arguing you caused the crash, and it will look for any evidence it can find to weaken your case.
Florida’s No-Fault Insurance Laws
Anyone driving a car registered in Florida must purchase no-fault coverage. You can only seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance provider if your injuries meet the state’s severity threshold. An insurance company could delay your case by arguing you do not meet the requirements to step outside Florida’s no-fault system.
Steps You Can Take to Speed up a Car Accident Settlement
In general, insurance companies dictate the pace of car accident settlements. However, there are a few things you can do to speed up your case.
Starting Medical Treatment Immediately
Waiting to see a doctor can allow the insurance company to argue it should not have to compensate you because the accident was not the source of your injuries or that your delays worsened your injuries. Getting to a doctor immediately after an accident protects your right to compensation.
Saving All Your Medical Records
An insurance company will want to see your medical records before it approves any settlement. It wants to make sure you are not exaggerating your injuries to increase the value of your claim. Saving your medical records and keeping them organized can help avoid bureaucratic delays if an insurer requests any documents from you.
Filing Your Claim Quickly
The sooner you file your claim, the sooner settlement negotiations can begin and the sooner you could potentially recover compensation.
Reviewing Any Records Before Submitting Them
While you want to pursue your claim quickly, you also need to be careful about anything you submit to an insurer. Paperwork errors can create unnecessary delays, and you do not want to say or do anything that casts doubt on who caused the accident. Have an attorney review any documents you send to an insurance company.
Staying off Social Media
The wrong post or picture on social media can discredit your case and cause unnecessary delays. Stay off social media entirely until your case ends. At the bare minimum, do not post anything about your case, and do not accept any new friend requests.
Hiring a Car Accident Attorney Immediately
A car accident attorney’s job is to help you recover maximum compensation as quickly as possible after a collision. The sooner you bring a lawyer into the process, the more they can do to help you recover the money you need and the faster they can get started.
How a Car Accident Attorney Can Speed Up Your Case
An experienced attorney can do several things to speed up a car accident settlement.
A car accident lawyer can find, demand, and preserve evidence to show how the other driver or another party caused the crash. With sufficiently strong evidence, the insurance company may back down and agree to a settlement.
Filing Your Claim Quickly and Correctly
Filing your claim as soon as possible can speed up your case, but you want to avoid preventable errors that could jeopardize its outcome. An attorney can take care of this for you by reviewing any documents included in your insurance claim.
Handling Settlement Negotiations
While you can negotiate a settlement with an insurer yourself, a lawyer is better equipped to do so. Experienced car accident attorneys know how insurance companies think and the tricks they use to delay claims. The insurer will take the threat of a lawsuit much more seriously if it comes from an attorney with trial experience.
Potential Compensation in a Car Accident Settlement
Depending on the facts of the case, your settlement may include compensation for:
- Medical expenses related to the accident, including the cost of future treatments (if necessary)
- Lost wages and reduced future earnings
- Physical pain from your injuries
- Emotional distress related to the accident
- Diminished quality of life due to an injury or disability
- Any personal property damaged in the crash
If you want to recover compensation for all these losses as quickly as possible, contact a car accident attorney immediately.
Deadline to File a Car Accident Lawsuit in Florida
Taking a car accident case to trial is risky, expensive, and time-intensive. However, it could become necessary to get the full compensation you deserve. You should remember the deadline to file a lawsuit if an insurer drags its feet because, without the threat of a lawsuit, you have no way to make an insurance company compensate you for your injuries.
Under Florida law, you have four years from the date of a car accident to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver or another liable party. If you wait too long to file a lawsuit, the courts will dismiss your case as untimely, and you will lose your right to compensation.
That’s why it’s important to contact a car accident attorney immediately after an accident to ensure you don’t miss any important deadlines.