This may be the most common question that our firm receives from new clients and also the most difficult to answer.
While there are exceptions to every rule, typically you can settle your personal injury claim at any time as long as you are willing to accept less money. What is important to consider is the amount of money you may be giving up for a quick settlement.
A personal injury case can take anywhere from days to years. The most common factors in determining the length of a personal injury case are:
- Is liability clear? If the defendant denies liability for the accident, it can significantly delay a claim as the insurance company is unlikely to make a reasonable offer until liability is determined. Often in these situations, it is necessary for your attorney to take the depositions of the defendant(s) and any witnesses. It may even become necessary to hire an accident reconstructionist to review the evidence and recreate the accident to determine who was at fault.
- Have you reached maximum medical improvement from your injuries? Maximum medical improvement “MMI” is a term used by treating physicians to describe the stage of recovery from an injury at which point your body has recovered to the fullest extent that it will likely ever recover. As you continue to treat, your medical bills continue to increase, making it impossible for an attorney or insurance representative to determine the full value of your personal injury case until you have reached MMI.
- What are the insurance coverage limits? Typically, the more insurance coverage that is available, the longer it takes to get a full-value offer. Insurance companies are unlikely to cut big checks without thoroughly investigating a claim; which may include taking your deposition, having their own retained physician examine you, or even hiring a surveillance team to follow you. Often, insurers will intentionally delay settlement in an attempt to get you to accept less money for a speedy resolution.
In order for your attorney to properly begin the negotiation process with the insurance company, they will have to collect all of your medical records and bills from your treating physicians. The information contained in your medical records (i.e. complaints, diagnoses, and treatment plans) is the most important variable in determining the value of your case. Typically these documents are obtained from your treating physicians by way of written request and are received through U.S. mail. The process of collecting these records can be timely, but is vital to your case.
Once a settlement demand has been sent to the insurance company with the relevant medical records and bills, it takes some time for the insurance company to read each of the documents and evaluate the claim. Typically it takes about 20-30 days to receive the first offer from the insurer. More often than not, the first offer is a “lowball” offer made in an attempt to dissuade the claimant from moving their case further. This means that it becomes necessary to either send a counter demand or to file a lawsuit.
While filing a lawsuit typically adds to the value of your case, it can also cause a significant delay in the settlement timeline. From the time a lawsuit is filed, the process server has 120 days to obtain service on the defendant(s), at which point the defendant(s) has an additional 20 days to file an Answer to the lawsuit. The filing of an Answer begins the discovery portion of a lawsuit, which typically includes an exchange of written questions, the scheduling of depositions, and the hiring of experts. While negotiations can occur throughout the process, the insurance company does not typically give their best or highest offer until the discovery is complete and all discoverable information has been gathered by both parties.
Considering all of the factors mentioned above, there are no concrete answers for how long a personal injury case will take. If you have questions about your personal injury case, call Dismuke Law – 1-800-ASK-DAVE for a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys who will work hard to bring your case to the swiftest resolution possible without compromising the value of your claim.