The days and weeks following an injury can be a confusing time full of questions you never thought you’d ask. And if you have a personal injury case, one of the most common is “how long is it going to take for my case to settle?” The answer is important, especially if you’re counting on the money from your settlement to pay for important bills.
While every personal injury case is different, there are some guidelines around how long settlements take.
Here’s the uncomfortable truth:
It often takes longer to settle a personal injury case than people would like or than your personal injury lawyer will tell you. Our research shows that the average is around 1.5 years from the day the accident occurs to the day the injured person receives their check. But remember, this is an average. Some cases settle in as little as a few weeks, while others can drag on for years, some lead to litigation, and in some cases clients flat out lose and walk away with no recovery either because a defendant is found not liable, there is no coverage available or there were no damages. There isn’t a perfect calculator for determining case duration (although we might just try building one), but let’s explore the most important factors.
Why might it take a while for my personal injury case to settle?
- You’re still receiving treatment to recover from the accident
- The insurance company doesn’t agree about who is to blame
- The settlement amount could be large
You’re still getting treatment
If you’re still receiving medical treatment, your lawyer likely won't take the next step towards getting you a settlement . That’s because they won’t know the full extent of your treatment (because you’re still treating) and won’t know what to tell the insurance company about how seriously you were injured. It’s a bit ironic because serious injuries typically require the most treatment and the more seriously injured people also usually need their case to settle the fastest.
Determining who is to blame
Some accidents - like a rear-end collision - are easy to prove who’s to blame (or to throw some legal jargon around, who’s “at fault.”). Others - like a slip & fall injury in a grocery store - may lead to more debate.
In cases where it’s hard to prove who is to blame, it could take time for everyone involved to learn the details. They may need to get witness statements, video evidence and more. If the details are disputed, the case may require filing a lawsuit and possibly a trial in court adding even more time to your case.
Proving who is to blame is called establishing “liability,” and is an important part of most personal injury cases.
Insurance companies take longer in bigger cases
Another key factor is the potential size of the settlement. It’s no surprise that if the settlement is expected to be a large amount of money, the insurance company is going to investigate every detail to make sure they get it right. They’ll read through every medical record, witness statement, and yes - even your social media accounts - in an effort to find a reason to lower the settlement amount. It’s also likely they will go through your medical history before the accident to make sure the injury you’re complaining of now didn’t actually happen before your accident.
And because cases with bigger settlements usually involve more serious injuries, the process of treatment and recovery takes longer too.
When an agreement on settlement amount isn’t reached quickly, the insurance company is sometimes making a bet that you and your lawyer won’t file a lawsuit or that you don’t have the patience or money to wait. They’re like the casinos in Las Vegas: they have the data and resources and they’ve done this literally a million times before. Just one more reason why it’s good to have a trusted expert on your side, guiding you through the process.
Setting the right expectations
Personal injury lawyers are known to, well, overpromise when they’re trying to sign clients up and early in their case. They’re then the masters of walking things back as the case goes on and their predictions don’t come to fruition. Find a lawyer who doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, but who tells you the truth. If someone is saying they’ll get you a big settlement overnight, it’s likely they are over-promising and will end up under-delivering.
Make sure that your lawyer is transparent and sets the right expectations from the start, with a specific plan to keep you well informed along the way to avoid any surprises.
So even if your settlement takes time to come in, you’ll be prepared for the road ahead.
Mighty is using its data-driven, nerdy know-how to help people after an accident. Mighty Law lawyers charge lower rates and commit to a Code of Conduct that forbids behaviors typical among billboard injury attorneys, such as quid pro quos for referring people to their doctor friends. Plus, you can work with a Mighty Law lawyer at no cost for up to 60 days if no lawsuit or demand letter is filed.
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