Unfortunately, accident settlements don't follow a fixed timeline. Various factors can delay the resolution of your claim, and most of them are out of your control. The most reliable way to get the fastest payment possible is to entrust your claim to a skilled personal injury lawyer who can press your case to insurance companies, defense lawyers, and, if necessary, a judge and jury at trial.
Quick Review of Accident Settlements
A settlement is an agreement to resolve a legal dispute. In the typical accident settlement, you receive money from a liable party in exchange for releasing that party (and sometimes others) from further liability and dropping any lawsuit pending against them. The liable party who pays you money could be an individual, business, or entity at fault or legally responsible for the accident or an insurance company that issued coverage to you or the at-fault party.
Settlements usually end legal disputes. You can virtually never reopen a settlement once you've received your payment. That element of finality highlights the importance of negotiating the best deal possible before agreeing to settle.
Most settlements get negotiated between lawyers for the parties and, when insurance coverage pays, the claims adjuster. Your lawyer can advise you whether to accept or reject a settlement negotiated on your behalf. But the decision to settle is always yours to make. Your lawyer needs your permission to commit you to any accident claim settlement.
Most accident claims settle. But some don't. A claim that does not settle may get resolved by a court after the parties file written requests (motions) for a ruling in their favor or by a judge and jury after a trial.
When You Hire a Lawyer to Handle Your Claim
The only factor affecting the timing of an accident settlement you control is when you hire a lawyer to handle your claim. Simply put, the sooner you hire an experienced accident attorney, the sooner your claim can settle. Once hired, your lawyer can build your case and participate in settlement negotiations. Until then, it's unrealistic to expect a fair settlement.
Don't lose time worrying about the cost of hiring a lawyer to handle your claim. A skilled accident attorney will meet with you for free to evaluate your case and explain your options. You'll never have to pay for that evaluation, even if you decide not to hire the lawyer you consult.
Also, any lawyer you hire will almost certainly agree to represent you on a contingent fee basis. That means you won't pay anything upfront or be billed hourly for the lawyer's services. Instead, the lawyer's fee will consist of a percentage of any money recovered on your behalf through a settlement, court judgment, or jury award. You only pay if the lawyer wins for you.
How Long It Takes to Build Your Case
An at-fault party or insurance company won't pay a settlement unless they believe they're liable for at least some of your losses. Or, to put it another way, your accident claim only has value if a lawyer could prove someone's liability and your damages to a judge and jury at trial if push came to shove. No provable case, no settlement.
To secure a favorable accident settlement for you, a lawyer first needs to collect evidence and develop arguments to demonstrate that someone owes you money for your compensable losses. In some cases, building a case is a snap; no one disputes liability, and your damages are easy to calculate. In other cases, it takes careful investigation to identify the parties who may have liability, and the scope of your losses remains uncertain until a doctor can give you a reasonably solid prognosis.
You don't have much control over the complexity of your accident claim. But you can help your attorney build the case by seeking prompt medical attention and saving all bills, invoices, receipts, and statements you receive from medical providers, insurance companies, auto body shops, and anyone else who plays a role in your recovery from the accident.
The Degree of Dispute on Liability and Damages
Disagreement over core issues like whether someone owes you damages or how much they owe can affect the timing of an accident settlement. It's relatively easy to settle a case when everyone's lawyers and insurance carriers agree on the party who caused the accident and the losses you suffered. But settlement talks can bog down when one or several parties dispute those fundamental questions.
Lawyers for accident victims try to minimize disputes by building the most robust case possible. But even the strongest case can prompt pushback from an opposing party or insurance company. That's often the case when an accident causes substantial losses for the victim. Liable parties and insurers fight harder as their potential financial exposure grows.
How hard the other side fights your claim is not up to you. Your lawyer can only present the most persuasive case possible and urge at-fault parties and insurers to fulfill their legal obligations.
The Number of Parties Who Have a Stake in the Outcome
As the number of parties who have a stake in the outcome of your accident claim rises, so does the amount of time it can take to settle. More parties usually mean more complexity, more potential for dispute, and more practical hurdles before reaching an agreement to resolve your claim.
But that doesn't mean multiple parties are always a bad thing. One of your lawyer's most crucial tasks is identifying as many individuals, businesses, or entities as possible who may have liability for your losses.
Targeting several liable parties for payment can increase your odds of receiving full compensation that pays your bills and meets your long-term financial needs. In every accident case, lawyers must strike a balance between streamlining a claim by pursuing just one defendant and broadening its scope to maximize the chances of a meaningful financial recovery.
The Parties’ Competing Priorities
The opposing parties in an accident case usually prefer settlement to litigation. Settling costs less than fighting in court. It pays to negotiate if everyone more-or-less agrees on the core issues of who owes what.
Until it doesn't. Sometimes, one or both parties have personal or business reasons to delay negotiations or not to settle. A liable party may delay talks until they've resolved a dispute over coverage for the victim's losses with their insurer. Or an insurance company may decide to fight your claim to deter other potential claimants from following in your footsteps. An injured accident victim might even opt for delaying or refusing a settlement because they want their day in court.
You can't set the other parties' priorities for them. But you can be clear with your lawyer about what's important to you in how the claim gets resolved. An attorney can't guarantee that you'll get what you want in the timespan you prefer, but they can adjust their strategies and tactics to get you a resolution that fits your preferences as well as possible.
Whether Your Claim Goes to Court
Accident lawyers can sometimes settle claims without first filing a lawsuit. For example, quick, favorable settlements often happen when all parties agree on liability and damages, and the claim is either relatively small or so large that it far exceeds the limits of the insurance coverage available to pay it.
But many claims require filing a lawsuit to focus the opposing parties' attention on your case. Suing an at-fault party or insurer doesn't automatically mean your case will go to trial. Most lawsuits settle before seeing the inside of a courtroom. But it does mean that court-imposed procedures and schedules may influence the timing of your accident settlement. For example, courts commonly set deadlines for the parties to exchange information, ask the court to rule on particular issues, and go to trial if necessary.
Of course, lawyers and insurance adjusters can discuss settlement anytime they please. But by default, court-imposed deadlines tend to dictate the schedule of settlement negotiations.
Scheduling and Administrative Factors
The timing of a settlement can also depend on mundane, everyday factors. Busy lawyers sometimes struggle to find a date to meet in person to discuss settlement. Judges push off court dates. A party forgets to check their email for a day or two. Someone has family obligations or gets sick, or goes on vacation. And so on.
You can minimize these factors by staying in touch with and being responsive to your lawyer. And you can trust your lawyer to keep their eye on the ball and act as promptly as possible on your case.
Do’s and Don’ts of Facilitating a Favorable Settlement
As the party hoping for a settlement, you may feel compelled to do something to speed things along. As explained above, hiring a lawyer is the most critical step you can take in that regard. And other actions you take might also help keep the prospect of settlement on track. But injured accident victims sometimes make missteps derailing their hopes of a favorable settlement. Here are a few do's and don'ts to consider.
DO Seek Prompt Medical Care
Never delay seeking care for an accident-related injury. Prompt medical attention preserves your health. It also creates crucial evidence medical records and your doctor's prognosis to support your claim.
DO Keep Thorough Records
Hang on to every document and scrap of paper you receive related to your accident, and give them to your lawyer for review. Save bills, invoices, insurance statements, receipts, estimates, pay stubs, police accident reports, and anything else that discusses the accident, your injuries, or the financial costs you face. Keeping complete records saves your lawyer time in building your case.
DON’T Agree to a Quick Settlement Offer Made Directly to You
Insurance companies and at-fault parties sometimes offer quick, lowball settlements of accident claims directly to an injured victim who hasn't yet hired a lawyer. If that happens to you, do not agree to the offer, and don't sign anything the insurance company sends you.
It might seem like a lot of money, but chances are it falls far short of what a lawyer could get for you. If you say yes, you could jeopardize your ability to obtain the compensation you need to cover your expenses and plan for the future. To maximize the amount you receive, leave settlement negotiations to a skilled attorney to conduct on your behalf.
DON’T Sit on Your Rights
Hiring a lawyer promotes a quick settlement. It also protects your rights. Your accident claim comes with an expiration date called a statute of limitations. Failing to take legal action before it passes can result in losing your claim. Talk to a lawyer immediately to preserve your ability to negotiate the maximum settlement possible.
Contact an Experienced Accident Lawyer Today
The most effective step to speed up your settlement is to entrust your claim to a skilled personal injury attorney in Philadelphia. So don't wait another minute. Contact an experienced accident lawyer today for a free case evaluation.