When someone crashes into your car, and you sustain serious injuries, you should initially focus on healing and your recovery. As you return to your usual daily activities, you may start thinking about settling your injury claim. It may represent a long-needed cash influx to restore your finances to pre-accident conditions.
However you envision your settlement, you are likely wondering how long the process will take.
The immediate answer is that personal injury settlements depend on the specific circumstances surrounding the accident and resulting injuries. They also depend on whether you hire a car accident lawyer who knows how to efficiently prepare and press your case.
Your Settlement Timing Is Unique to You and Your Claim
As you and your lawyer contemplate your settlement, you must ask several questions, just as you did when examining liability issues immediately after your accident. Your settlement’s timing will depend upon these answers.
What Is the Statute of Limitations?
The statute of limitations is a law that limits how long someone has to file a certain type of claim. You have probably heard the term used in reference to criminal proceedings, but it also applies to civil cases like personal injury lawsuits.
In Illinois, the statute of limitations for most personal injury claims is two years. There are some longer and shorter exceptions to this, including injuries to children or claims against local municipalities. However, two years is the most common statute of limitations that claims will fall under.
Your attorney must settle your claim or file a lawsuit by that date, or you lose the right to recover compensation altogether. In most cases an attempt to settle your case will be made well before the statute limitations, unless you go through extended medical care due to more serious injuries.
What Is the Insurance Company’s Position?
Insurance companies are often at the center of settlement timing issues. Their only legal guidance on timing is that they must comply with fair claim practices outlined in the Illinois Administrative Code. Illinois law requires insurers to affirm or deny liability “within a reasonable time.” They must also offer payment within 30 days, “if the amount of the claim is determined and not in dispute.”
When an injury claim presents complex legal and damage issues, insurers often consider them in dispute. When settlement negotiations begin, the disputed liability and damage issues often become a negotiation tool to reduce settlement values.
Some insurers initiate settlement negotiations when they perceive that the time is right—and that’s usually when you don’t yet have a lawyer and your bills are piling up. Others operate with brinkmanship tactics and may tiptoe around the settlement issue, withdrawing contact a few months before the statute runs to avoid bad faith allegations.
Negotiating with insurers is notoriously difficult. This is where an attorney can greatly simplify and expedite the claims process.
Have You Reached Maximum Healing?
If you still have serious questions about your recovery, your personal injury attorney can help estimate the full scope of your expenses, both present and future, and the best course of action for pursuing recovery, whether in or out of court.
Most compensation is paid out after you have finished recovering from your injuries. This is known as maximum healing or “maximum medical improvement” (MMI).
Reaching maximum medical improvement does not necessarily mean that you’re pain-free or that you won’t require further treatment. It simply means that your doctors have determined that you have healed as much as possible from your current injuries.
But in some cases, your recovery will take longer than the length of the claim’s process since some injuries require treatment for years after the accident.
If this situation applies to your claim, those medical expenses will need to be included in the settlement amount.
With severe injuries, you may require reoccurring checkups, surgeries, injections, physical therapy, and other treatment. To be able to claim future medical damages, you must be able to prove that you require continued medical care after your claim is settled. This requires showing that there is reasonable probability that the injuries you sustained in the accident will require further treatment.
Your attorney will be able to help you gather evidence that future medical care is necessary. In some cases, they may even speak to your doctors and work with them to determine what care you’ll need in the future, for how long, and approximately how much it’s going to cost. This information can then be used to argue for a higher settlement offer. If necessary, it will be used in trial to prove to the court that you require further compensation.
Settling a case before you reach maximum medical improvement could seriously undervalue your claim since any future treatments or surgeries would not be included.
Naturally, waiting for your body to fully heal will take time. This is why maximum healing is considered a factor in how long your car accident settlement will take.
Are There Any Outstanding Liability Issues?
If a defendant alleges that you caused or contributed to your injuries, several things could happen:
- The defendant’s insurance carrier won’t make an offer.
- The insurance carrier may defend its insured against your liability claim.
- The other driver might file a liability claim or file a lawsuit against you.
- The liability insurance carrier may offer a percentage of your damages based on your alleged liability percentage.
- The insurance carrier might offer you a nominal settlement simply to get your name on a release.
In Illinois, comparative fault is used to determine which party pays for the damages associated with the accident and how much of the damages they are responsible for.
In situations where both parties are at fault for the accident, comparative fault determines how much the plaintiff will receive in compensation based on what percentage they were at-fault.
For example, if the injured person is determined to be 25% at-fault for the accident, their compensation amount would be reduced by that amount. Therefore, they would only be able to receive 75% of their total damages in compensation.
However, if the injured party is determined to be more than 50% at-fault for the accident, they will not be eligible to receive any compensation for the accident.
This is called “modified comparative negligence”.
Insurers are in the business of making money, and are in no hurry to resolve your claim, let alone pay you the full amount you need. Your car accident attorney will expect this, and can help you overcome the obstacles insurers are likely to put in place throughout the claims process.
Do You Know How Much Your Claim Is Worth?
Whether you sustained minor or catastrophic injuries, there is a good chance that you have no idea what your claim is worth. Insurance company negotiators take advantage of this. When they perceive that you are anxious or uninformed, they sometimes settle claims as economically as possible. This often leads to a quick but unfair settlement offer.
Determining how much your case is worth depends on many different factors. The most important factors for calculating the value of your injury claim are the cost of your medical treatment, the amount of income you have lost, the severity of injuries, and any pain and suffering you experienced. These are known as damages.
The cost of your medical treatment, the income that you’ve lost while recovering from your injuries, and any property damage you’ve incurred add up to your total economic damages.
Non-economic damages are those elements of your claim that are considered a type of damage but that cannot be easily calculated. Pain and suffering is the most common example of non-economic damages.
For serious car accident injury claims, your pain and suffering may play a large role in the value of your claim. The amount that your life has changed and the amount that your injuries have affected your life could increase the amount of compensation that you’ll receive.
Understanding that your claim is valued at more than just the first few medical bills you receive in the mail is an important part of getting the proper amount of compensation. Of course, seeking this rightful amount will make your case take longer. Insurance companies know this. And they know that many people will jump at the chance to get a few thousand dollars with a quick up-front settlement. Do not let this happen to you until you have spoken to a personal injury lawyer about your options.
Have You Made a Demand?
Some insurance companies won’t begin negotiating with you until you and your attorney put a demand on the table. Once you do, it sets the parameters for future negotiations. Sometimes unless you file a lawsuit, these companies will never make an offer higher than your initial demand. Before an initial settlement demand is made to an insurance company, your personal injury attorney can perform a full accounting of your costs and damages, and develop the best possible demand to begin negotiating from.
Has the Liability Insurance Carrier Made an Offer?
Insurance claim representatives have their own policies about making offers and responding to demands. Some treat claim negotiations as a strategic game. While uncommon, they sometimes make an offer simply to get the ball rolling. But most of the time they won’t offer a single dime until your attorney tells them what you want.
Do You Know the Negligent Driver’s Policy Limits?
Policy limits are another factor critical to settlement negotiation parameters. When the responsible party’s policy limits are disclosed, it often speeds up settlement negotiations. It helps your lawyer understand what motivates the negotiator, and it also gives him or her time to search for supplemental coverage options.
- If a claim negotiator sticks to an unreasonably low figure, they may have a small policy limit and/or are negotiating in bad faith.
- Your lawyer can investigate uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage options with your own insurance company.
- You can also look for excess policies that provide coverage to the responsible driver.
Will You Consider a Structured Settlement?
If you have serious or catastrophic injuries, some insurance companies will encourage you to settle your claim with a structured settlement. Customarily, an insurance company works with an independent company to set up an annuity-style payment arrangement.
If you agree to the arrangement, it often eliminates months of settlement negotiations.
- The insurance company pays you a lump sum upfront.
- The insurance company pays your attorney fees.
- You, your attorney, and the insurance company execute a release of claims ith the annuity company.
- The annuity company pays you a monthly or annual amount for either a specified period or for life.
Structured settlements aren’t for everyone, but they can work for you if you prefer both a cash payment and a guaranteed monthly income. The liability insurance company may introduce the idea during negotiations, and your attorney can help you determine what terms work best for your individual needs.
Other Factors that Affect How Long It Takes to Settle Your Injury Claim
You’re likely anxious to get your claim settled. But reaching a settlement that you’ll be happy with and that covers all your expenses takes time. There are various factors that can make reaching a settlement take longer. These include:
- The severity of your injuries: Your settlement could take longer than average if your injuries are severe. Lifelong injuries that will require ongoing treatment and future medical care will need to be well documented by your doctors. This information takes time to understand and gather. If your injuries are still healing, you may have to wait until they’re completely healed so that you can submit an accurate and complete diagnosis of your medical damages. If you will not heal completely in a reasonable amount of time, your lawyer will evaluate your medical records to determine settlement value and the best path forward.
- Cooperation from the insurance company: If the at-fault driver and their insurance company are cooperative, it can speed up the settlement process. However, if they’re being uncooperative, it could cause delays in your case. Examples of actions an insurance company might take when being uncooperative include refusing to offer a reasonable settlement, minimizing your injuries, or not admitting fault when liability is clear.
- Filing a complaint: Unfortunately, legal proceedings can extend the timeline of your injury case. If the at-fault party’s insurance company is being unreasonable and taking too long to come up with a proper settlement amount, your attorney may need to file a legal complaint against them.
Should You Take Your Case to Trial?
If you want to avoid informal settlement negotiations and meet the negligent driver face-to-face in court, you have a right to do that. You should understand that it can cause a significant delay in resolving your claim. Pre-trial activities alone often extend liability cases and litigation can take years.
Judges have backlogged dockets, so they often prefer that injured plaintiffs resolve their claims through other channels. In Cook County, plaintiffs and defendants often participate in mediation before committing to a trial date. Your personal injury attorney can advise you if pursuing a trial is a viable (and advisable) option given your case circumstances.
How Filing a Lawsuit Affects Your Injury Claim and Timeline
If you and your attorney decide that the settlement being offered by the insurance company is too low–and they are not willing to go any higher–the next step will be to file a lawsuit against them.
Getting a court involved in your case will clearly extend the amount of time your personal injury case will take to settle.
Sometimes, filing a lawsuit will push insurance companies to work harder to reach a reasonable settlement since they want to avoid going to trial. Trials cost insurance companies time, effort, and money that they can mitigate by settling out of court.
When you file a formal lawsuit, it is still possible to settle out of court. In fact, the vast majority of personal injury cases happen to settle out of court. But if the case goes all the way to trial, it will obviously make your case take much longer. Processes like discovery, mediation, and hearings all need to be prepared for, scheduled, and carried out. All of these proceedings take time.
But it is important to remember that if your attorney decides a lawsuit was your best course of action, it may be the best course to get you the most money for your injuries. Sometimes, quick cash is not the answer to your situation. An experienced attorney will help you to understand this if your claim reaches this point.
Do You Need an Attorney to Settle Your Claim?
Things almost always work out more favorably for plaintiffs when they have an experienced personal injury attorney working on their behalf. Attorneys evaluate liability, damages, and statute of limitations issues, so a plaintiff doesn’t have to. Attorneys also deal with insurance carriers, claim negotiators, and negligent drivers, while their clients concentrate on healing.
Further, once a case is settled, unrepresented plaintiffs typically pay medical bills at 100% no questions asked, while a good lawyer will negotiate all your medical bills and put more money in your pocket.
When you call for a free consultation, you can discuss your case with an attorney and learn your legal options. Ultimately, you and your advocate can decide whether negotiation, trial, or mediation is the right option for you.