How Long Does a Settlement Take?
A settlement can take anywhere from a few weeks to over five years to close. A more straightforward injury, like from a rear-end collision, is more likely to resolve quickly. A medical malpractice case is more likely to take several years.
Bills can quickly add up after a personal injury, whether it’s due to medical treatment, missing work or paying for vehicle repairs. Knowing when you can expect the settlement money you’re rightfully owed can help you budget for what’s next and ultimately make ends meet.
The details of two personal injury claims are rarely alike, so it can be difficult to find an exact answer to the question, “How long does a settlement take?” However, learning the common processes that settlements follow can give you a ballpark idea of what to expect.
The Typical Settlement Timeline
Just because your personal injury lawyer can’t provide an exact date for when your settlement will close doesn’t mean you’ll be left completely in the dark. Personal injury claims or lawsuits have several steps to follow and some of them can take longer than others, depending on your case .
For perspective, those steps include:
- Getting the medical treatment you need to recover. Not only will this help you heal from your injuries, but it will also provide concrete evidence that your injuries are real and the settlement you’re requesting is warranted.
- Collecting the facts about your case. Having a police report and medical records regarding your health and injuries will strengthen your claim and make it harder for an insurance company to deny it.
- Sending a settlement demand. Your lawyer will notify the insurance company of your claim, delivering the documents you collected in the preceding steps and demand that the insurance company compensate you for your injuries and damages.
- The insurance company responds within a set deadline. This time period will vary based on the state the claim is made in. For instance, Pennsylvania requires a response within 25 days, while California requires a response within 85 days. The insurance company may extend an offer to settle your case before the time limit is up. However, the insurance company may also request additional evidence, extending this step.
- Negotiations take place. The insurance company may make a counter offer to your initial settlement demand. You and your lawyer will decide whether to accept or continue negotiations. If the insurance company chooses to make you an offer to settle your claim, this step may repeat a few times until you are satisfied with the settlement amount.
- A settlement agreement is either reached or a lawsuit is filed. If you and the insurance company agree on the terms, you’ll move onto the next step: signing a release. However, a small percentage of cases fail to resolve at this stage and will enter into an official court case.
- Signing a release form. A personal injury settlement release form is an agreement you make to not pursue further damages against a defendant in exchange for the settlement from the insurance company.
- Your lawyer receives the settlement check. This usually takes four to six weeks to arrive. The personal injury lawyer gets paid first before divvying up the rest of the settlement.
- Your lienholders are paid. If you received settlement funding (i.e., a loan), medical treatment without paying up front, or if your health insurance company paid medical bills on your behalf, then your lawyer is required to pay them before issuing payment to you. Your lawyer will work to negotiate your bills and then pay your lienholders.
- You are paid what’s left. After your lawyer and lienholders are paid, you’ll receive the remainder of your settlement.
Once more, the more complicated your case, the more likely it is for your settlement to be delayed. Medical malpractice cases, for example, often take years to resolve due to a variety of complicated factors that are unique to those types of cases.
How To Figure Out the Average Settlement Time of a Personal Injury Case
Personal injury settlements can take anywhere from a few weeks to over five years to reach a settlement agreement. Where you fall in that settlement timeline depends on these factors:
- The severity of your injury: Most of the time, your lawyer will wait to send a demand until after your treatment is complete, so the longer you’re being treated, the longer it may take to begin negotiations, although exceptions exist.
- The clarity of liability: The insurance company is more likely to contest a claim if it’s difficult to determine who is at fault. This is often tied to the type of case. It’s much more difficult to prove liability in a medical malpractice case than a rear-end collision.
- The size of the insurance policy: Small policies, especially in cases where the injury far exceeds the policy, go much faster than big policies. This is also tied to the kind of case it is. Bringing a claim against a hospital or a commercial trucking company that has a large insurance policy has much higher stakes than suing a guy driving a 20-year-old car that has minimum insurance coverage..
- The insurance carrier: Some carriers are more attentive than others, although the industry in general has been acting slower than in the past. This is partly due to staffing issues, but also due to cutting costs in favor of customer service.
- The state you live in: Some states have bad faith laws that make it hard for insurance carriers to play games. Other states have no protective measures in place, allowing claims to drag on for years.
- Your representation: Some lawyers settle fast for less money, while others will drag out negotiating settlements for years. Choosing a personal injury lawyer aligned with your priorities can help you manage expectations.
After taking all of this into account, it’s easy to see why the lawsuit settlement process is so difficult to pin down.
Why Your Settlement May Be Delayed
Even when everything goes right, a settlement can take a long time to close. Occasionally exceptions arise that further bog down the process.
There Are Multiple Injured Parties
Complex cases take a long time to settle, and a surefire way to complicate a case is to have multiple people suing the same person. It increases the amount of paperwork to process, people to interview and stories to scrutinize.
The insurance company is looking to settle for as little as possible, so they’ll take their time going over all the evidence, trying to find ways to shift blame and minimize payouts.
The Court is Backed Up
If your court has a lengthy backlog, the insurance company will know there’s no rush on their end to settle. They’ll use this leverage to purposefully stall with lowball offers, hoping you’re desperate enough to take it.
Even in states that have bad faith laws in place, it can be difficult to prove and further prolongs the process.
How To Speed Up Settlement Negotiations
While some factors are out of your control — like if the insurance company is dragging their feet — you can play a part in keeping your settlement negotiation on track.
- Document everything. Keep track of all medical treatments and bills you receive. Have your medical provider sign off on any work you miss due to your injury. Document any property damage and repairs you made.
- Stay consistent. Changing your story in official documents will raise questions and may require further investigation.
- Find the right personal injury lawyer. Having capable legal help will ensure you file documents properly while avoiding mistakes.
- Meet deadlines and follow medical advice. Do your best to review and sign documents in a timely manner and keep appointments with your lawyer and doctor. Likewise, follow the medical advice you receive so the insurance company cannot place doubts on your recovery.
- Maintain reasonable expectations. A resolution will be easier to find if you’re making good faith demands, and it increases the chances of the insurance company acting in kind.
Following these guidelines will put you in a good position to receive a fair settlement in a timely manner.
What to Do When You Can’t Reach a Settlement
Sometimes, a settlement agreement can be difficult to reach, but that doesn’t mean you should give up hope. Here are some litigation strategies that can strengthen your claim and promote a desirable conclusion:
- Conduct a thorough discovery process. A strong deposition can provide indisputable proof that you had no prior injury, thereby improving your claim.
- Meet with a mediator. An impartial third party will work to help you find common ground.
- Seek arbitration. It’s similar but far less complex than a court trial, and helps both parties get a sense of how an outsider views the merits of the case.
- Go to trial. This is seen by everyone as a last resort and is an uncommon solution. The court’s ruling on your case is final.
So, how long does a settlement take?
It all comes down to the details of your case, how long you’re willing to wait and how many additional costs you can afford.
If you were recently injured, it's time to get the ball rolling by treating your injuries and finding a personal injury lawyer — a good personal injury lawyer, that is — to lead your case across the finish line. Mighty can make that happen.
FAQs About How Long Settlements Take
Take a look at these commonly asked questions for more information regarding your settlement and how long a settlement takes.
What Happens When You Sign a Settlement Agreement?
Signing a release for a settlement marks the case as officially resolved, ending further litigation. Both parties must honor the terms of the settlement, including the payment of whatever money that was agreed to.
Why Is My Car Accident Settlement Taking So Long?
Your car accident settlement may take awhile to resolve if:
- There are multiple parties involved
- You’re asking for a large settlement
- The insurance company is stalling in an attempt to make you accept a smaller offer
How Long Do Car Accident Settlements Take?
It’s common for car accident settlements to take up to one year or longer. This is dependent on many factors, like the complexity of your case and the details surrounding your injury.
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