One of the most common questions that lawyers hear when they begin talking to a new potential car accident client is, “How long will a settlement take?” The truth is, this is a hard question to answer. Every car accident settlement takes a different amount of time, depending on various factors. To know how long a car accident settlement will take, you’ll have to dig into the details and consider several factors.
The truth is, you may never know how long a car accident settlement will take until you’re through it and on the other side. However, your lawyer may have a good guess as to how long the settlement will take based on some basic factors.
The five most important factors are listed below, along with information about how each can affect your case.
- Injury severity
- Proving liability
- Gathering evidence
- Amount of damages
- Your patience level
Let’s dive into these in further detail below.
Factor #1: Injury Severity
You’re almost certain to suffer an injury when you are in a car accident. In some cases, your injury may be fairly mild—a simple case of whiplash or a few scrapes and bruises may be the extent of your injuries. However, in most cases, you will suffer more serious injuries after a car accident.
The more severe the injury, the easier it will be for you to file a complaint against the at-fault driver and receive a significant amount of compensation from them. According to the statutory law in Pennsylvania, a severe injury is anything that causes serious impairment of bodily function, serious and permanent disfigurement, or death.
As a victim of an injury in a car accident, your main job is to explain how severe your injury was and how it has impacted your life. Even if you aren’t seriously disfigured, you can still claim a severe injury if you can show that your injury has seriously impaired your body and lifestyle. You can do this by presenting evidence from medical records, medical bills, testimony from medical experts, statements from family and friends, and a journal or record of your personal suffering because of the injury.
More severe injuries lengthen the time of a car accident settlement claim. After all, a fair settlement accounts for expenses you have already incurred and those you will incur in the future. It takes time to calculate how your injury will likely impact you and how much that will cost you financially, personally, and physically.
For example, you will want to ask:
- Can I return to work?
- Will I have to change jobs? Is a job change going to mean a significant pay cut?
- Will I have to cut my hours?
- Do I need to hire someone to help take care of me or drive me to work?
- Will I need to seek further medical treatment?
- Will I have to avoid certain activities, even those I used to love?
In many situations, you’ll need to seek advice from a medical expert who has seen people with injuries like yours. Your lawyer can help you find that expert and get an estimate about the future impact your injury will have on your life. It often takes a long time to get that opinion and gather enough physical evidence to prove it, which can make a car accident settlement drag on longer.
Factor #2: Proving Liability
Regarding the law surrounding car accidents, liability means responsibility. In many car accidents, one driver is responsible for performing some action (or failing to perform some action) that leads to the crash. In many car accident situations, liability comes from negligence; basically, the driver neglected to follow the law or safety practice and thus caused a crash.
To recover compensation after a car accident, you will need a lawyer who can prove:
- The driver owed you a duty of care. The driver assumes this piece when they get behind the wheel—every driver has the duty to handle a car safely while on the road.
- The driver breached that duty through negligence or purposeful action. In car accident cases, such a breach is often defined as something like texting and driving, driving under the influence, or even something as simple as failing to use a turn signal appropriately.
- The driver’s neglect of duty led to the accident. You must show direct causation between the driver’s negligence and the resulting accident.
- The accident caused you serious harm and injury. You won’t have much of a case if you can’t show that the accident resulted in serious consequences to your daily life.
The task of proving these factors can be pretty complicated. While your lawyers should be able to do so without much trouble, it will likely take them some time to gather the evidence they need and prepare a strong case that they can present in a complaint or before a judge and jury.
In some situations, more than one party may hold liability. For example, if a driver was drunk when they caused the accident, the person or establishment who allowed them to leave and get behind the wheel while intoxicated could be held partly responsible. If a driver was forced to work overtime or was hired to drive without proper training and made a mistake behind the wheel, their employer could be held partly responsible for the accident.
Sometimes, other drivers or government entities in charge of keeping a roadway clean and safe may also play a role in an accident. It’s important to speak with a lawyer about all potentially responsible parties before pursuing a claim. However, doing so will take time, as will gathering the evidence to support an accusation against any liable party.
Factor #3: Gathering Evidence
Once you sign a contract to retain your lawyer’s services, they will begin gathering evidence. You will need to sign an agreement to release private medical and financial information to them so that they can collect and build a complaint. However, gathering evidence usually takes a lot of time because your lawyer will have to reach out to multiple people/agencies to collect what they need for your case.
The most important pieces of evidence they’ll look for include:
- Medical records.
- Medical bills.
- Receipts for repairs to your car or other property.
- The police report (if filed).
- Witness statements from anyone who saw the accident.
- Any available photos or video footage from the accident.
- A prognosis for your recovery from an experienced medical professional.
- Documentation of lost work and wages.
- Information regarding the driving history of the at-fault driver.
Each piece of evidence will help you and your lawyers build a stronger case with a much greater likelihood of a higher settlement. Therefore, you and your legal team must do everything possible to collect as much evidence as possible.
You can help speed up the evidence-gathering process by keeping documents and records on hand once you receive them. However, there’s no getting around the fact that gathering evidence is time-consuming, especially if hospitals or police departments take their time in processing the documentation your lawyer needs. This process is one of the biggest time-eaters in a car accident settlement claim.
Factor #4: Amount of Damages
When you set out to pursue a car accident settlement, your lawyer will help you determine the amount of damages you will want to ask for based on the economic and non-economic losses you have endured because of the crash. Generally speaking, the higher the amount, the longer a case will take to settle since insurance companies will work to pay as little as possible.
When you meet with your lawyer, they will ask you to provide all evidence of the economic and non-economic damages you have suffered. Once they receive your signature to act as your legal representative, they will continue seeking out evidence to support your claim and establish an appropriate amount of compensation you should be able to collect.
The damages that lawyers generally include in their valuation of a claim include:
- Medical expenses (emergency room visits, surgeries, procedures, medication prescriptions, ongoing therapy/treatment, medical equipment).
- Property damage repair costs.
- Loss of income from time taken off work to recover.
- Loss of earning capacity and future wages if you cannot return to your job or work in the same capacity as before.
- Pain and suffering in general.
- Emotional distress or trauma.
- Scarring, disfigurement, and humiliation.
- Loss of consortium with loved ones.
- Loss of life enjoyment overall.
As you might guess, determining just how much a settlement is worth based on the damages you’ve endured is a complicated process. Your lawyers need to speak to medical professionals, calculate how much money you’ll lose at work, consider the value of your non-economic suffering, and collect all available bills and receipts.
Of course, in addition to simply determining the damages you should ask for, lawyers also have to help you negotiate with the insurance company for the at-fault driver. This process can be long and drawn out if the insurance company doesn’t want to pay the full compensation you request. Your lawyer will probably have to respond to requests for evidence and help you negotiate multiple low settlement offers before you arrive at one that effectively meets your needs.
Factor #5: Your Patience Level
You have some control when determining how long a car accident settlement claim will take. Negotiations will begin as soon as you and your lawyer have gathered evidence and sent a complaint to the at-fault driver and their insurance company.
The negotiation process usually goes something like this:
- Your lawyer sends the complaint with a request for a settlement.
- The defendant’s insurance company sends a response with an initial settlement offer (usually lower than your request).
- You and your lawyer discuss the offer and decide if it’s worth accepting.
- Your lawyer responds by accepting the offer or asking for a higher amount.
- The cycle continues until you reach a settlement favorable to both sides.
As you can imagine, this process can take a lot of time. The longer it takes, the better your chance of getting a high settlement. But the longer it takes, the longer you have to wait to pay your bills and settle back into a normal routine.
In most situations, insurance companies are difficult. Consider, for one thing, that over 100,000 car accidents occur in Pennsylvania each year. While not all of these accidents lead to settlement claims, many do. This surplus of claims leave insurance companies busy. And since the goal of any insurance provider is to take in more money in premiums from clients than they pay out in settlements, they’re going to push for a smaller settlement whenever they can.
Ultimately, you get to decide how long you want to take to pursue a settlement. If you want to be done with negotiations and accept a slightly smaller offer, you are welcome to do so. If you want to take your case to court (within the two-year statute of limitations), you can also do that, though your case will take even longer.
Getting a Settlement Check
Of course, there is one more factor in a settlement claim. Once you reach a settlement or receive a settlement from a judge and jury in court, how long does it take to get the settlement check? Well, it depends.
A few factors that determine how long this takes:
- How many releases you must sign (and generally notarize) before insurance adjusters order the check.
- How long the insurance company’s accounting department takes to issue the check.
- How long the check is in the mail.
- How long the bank keeps the check on hold.
- Whether the insurance company decides to pay your bills before sending you the rest of the check.
- Whether your lawyer has to wait for the check to clear before disbursing the funds to you and those to whom you owe money.
As you can imagine, this process is also time-consuming for many people. If you’re ready to start a car accident settlement claim and want to see it finished as quickly as possible, it’s crucial to reach out to a car accident lawyer immediately for a free consultation and start pursuing justice as soon as possible.