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?
In Illinois, you have a two-year statute of limitations for most personal injury claims, however they are defendants with a shorter one-year statute, such as municipalities. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.