Those injured in accidents caused by someone else’s negligence often feel a tremendous sense of urgency in the days, weeks, or even months following the accident. You’ve been injured, and you’ve incurred medical bills. You have missed work as a result of your injury and have endured countless medical appointments in an attempt to heal physically. You’re waiting for compensation from your attorney’s demand against the insurance company, and now… You’re waiting.

There are a number of individuals and entities involved in the payment of compensation through a settlement agreement, and each of those individuals and entities has a vital part to play in the creation and execution of the settlement agreement. Unfortunately, delays can occur at any phase of the settlement process and involve any one of those involved. Here is a look at why an accident settlement often takes longer than claimants anticipate.

If you are experiencing delays in your settlement, it may be beneficial to seek the advice of a personal injury lawyer. They can help you navigate the process and advocate on your behalf to ensure that your case is resolved as quickly and fairly as possible.

The Parties Involved in the Settlement Process

About 95 percent of personal injury lawsuits resolve through a pre-trial settlement. Settlements can occur at any point in the claims process, from the time the at-fault party’s insurance provider receives the demand from your attorney until a verdict is rendered in court. This form of claim resolution is actually beneficial to both parties in a dispute, as litigation is expensive and its outcome is uncertain. Below are some people who have a role in the process and its timing.

The Claimant

As noted by Peterson Physical Therapy of Arizona, many factors go into the length of time it takes for an injury to heal, including the severity of the injury and where it occurred on the body. However, there are some general guidelines for how long certain injuries take in most people. For example, most broken bones will heal within 12 weeks, cartilage damage can take up to 24 months, and injuries involving ligaments can take anywhere from weeks to a year or more for a full recovery.

After being injured in an accident, your main priority is to heal as fully from your injuries as possible. This involves getting prompt medical treatment, complying with your doctor’s treatment plan, and attending all scheduled appointments.

Another critical step in obtaining a settlement is obtaining the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer who can assist you with seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury. Because there is a deadline on the amount of time you have to file a claim against the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy known as the personal injury statute of limitations the sooner you hire an attorney, the sooner they can begin protecting your claim’s value and gathering the information needed to make your claim.

The Claimant’s Attorney

An attorney provides legal knowledge and experience in the personal injury claims process to assist you in the complex process of obtaining compensation for the expenses and psychological impacts of your injury. They have a legal team that assists them in gathering the documentation and evidence needed to prove your claim and justify the amount of compensation you’re seeking through your demand.

One of the most important services your attorney provides is managing the timing of your claim and file a personal injury lawsuit within the statute of limitations. You need this even for claims that settle out-of-court. If the insurance provider fails to offer a fair settlement, a judge or jury may consider your case if you file your lawsuit within the statute of limitations.

The court will generally refuse to hear the claim if after the deadline expires, and the at-fault party’s insurer will no longer need to settle the claim.

The Claimant’s Doctor

Your attorney will communicate with your doctor to determine when you have reached maximum medical improvement.

Maximum medical improvement occurs when your physician determines that:

  • Your condition has stabilized.
  • No further medical treatment is reasonably expected to improve your condition.

The reason your lawyer needs to know when you reach this point in your recovery is that this is generally the best time in which to establish a value to your claim as it offers a more accurate picture of the medical expenses you have incurred, as well as the presence of permanent injuries that will require medical treatment through the course of your life.

Additionally, this point in your recovery will help your attorney place a dollar amount to the earnings you missed from work and the potential of future lost earning capacity due to your injury.

The Police Who Investigated the Accident

If your accident was traffic-related, a police officer was likely at the scene to investigate. The results of that officer’s investigation must be compiled into an accident report. The police report provides objective documentation of what happened in the accident. Insurance companies and legal entities can use this information to determine who was liable (legally responsible) for the accident.

Most police accident reports include information such as:

  • The date and location of the crash.
  • The names, contact information, and insurance information for all drivers involved in the accident.
  • The names and contact information of all passengers and witnesses.
  • The statements of the parties involved and witnesses.
  • The officer’s narrative of what caused the accident based on the results of their interviews and other investigative procedures.

The At-Fault Party’s Insurer

Because most drivers do not have the finances to pay for physical harm and property damage they cause to others out-of-pocket, the vast majority of personal injury claims are compensated by the liable party’s relevant liability insurance policy.

When the insurance company receives the claim, they will assign a claims adjuster to review it and determine whether their insured is liable for the physical harm or property damage incurred by you. If so, the claims adjuster must also determine how much compensation is owed to the claimant.

The initial offer from the insurance claims adjuster is commonly much lower than the claim’s value. The attorney can negotiate with the claims adjuster in an attempt to get them to increase the offer to a level that fairly compensates you for the expenses and impacts of your injury. This can take a while, mainly if there is a dispute about your claim, such as a disagreement over liability, the severity of the injury, and the treatments received for it.

The Insurance Company’s Attorney

One of the tasks of an insurance company that is included in the language of nearly every auto insurance policy is to defend their claimant if they have been in an accident and a third-party claim is made against their policy is that they will defend their client. This generally involves using a defense attorney who can dispute the claim in court.

Even though most filed personal injury lawsuits still resolve by settlement before a trial, once the complaint is filed in court, both sides will also begin the discovery phase, which involves receiving the evidence and witness list that the other side plans to use in court. Parties are deposed during this time, and each side’s case’s focus becomes clearer.

Insurance companies also commonly use their legal counsel to help determine how much they’re legally obligated to pay on the claim to avoid the time, expense, and uncertainty of outcome—all mainstays of the court process.

The Courts

The court itself is a common delay to the outcome of a case, as civil court systems across the U.S. are frequently overburdened with cases and scheduled out months in advance. Additionally, a number of formalities are featured in the court process involving how parties to a dispute must file motions to compel information or even request that the claim be dismissed. Each time a party files a motion in court, the other party must be made aware of the motion and be provided with the opportunity to respond.

Causes of Delays in the Settlement Process

As you can see, there are many moving parts to the personal injury claims process that can cause a delay in the resolution of the claim. Here are some common causes for delays in the settlement process.

Your Injuries Take a Long Time to Heal

As previously noted, the best time to determine a value to your claim is when you’ve reached the point in your recovery when your injury is stabilized. This often takes much longer than what is convenient for your case. Some reasons for a longer recovery period include more severe (or even permanent) injuries, complications that set your recovery time back, and injuries that do not respond to conservative treatments and require surgery to repair.

The At-Fault Party’s Insurance Provider Disputes Your Claim

Insurance companies protect their bottom line by offering as small a payout on the claim as the claimant is willing to accept. Often they will seek to reduce the cost of the claim because either their evaluation of the claim led them to believe that the claimant was partially at fault for their own injury or their injury was not as serious as they claimed. Generally, the larger the claim’s value, the higher the likelihood that the at-fault party’s insurance company will dispute it.

The Insurance Provider’s Offers Unfair Settlements

When an insurance provider offers to settle the claim, your attorney will notify you of the offer and advise you whether this offer will provide you with enough compensation to cover your expenses. If you decide it isn’t enough, your attorney will continue negotiating with the claims adjuster to get them to raise the claim’s value. This sticking point can make the settlement process last longer than anyone would like.

Because the settlement process takes so long in some cases, it is not unusual for claimants to become impatient and consider taking a lower settlement to simply have some resolution. However, those who are patient and allow their attorney the time to continue negotiating often see higher offers made as the trial date approaches.

The Discovery Process

As explained, the discovery process is when both sides of the dispute have the opportunity to depose the other side’s witnesses and see the evidence they plan to use in the trial. If many depositions need to take place or a large amount of evidence that the other side must turn over for you and your attorney, you can expect there to be delays as those actions take place.

The Paperwork

Once you have decided to accept a settlement offer, the insurance company does not simply cut you a check. The offer must be incorporated into an overall settlement agreement that also includes other conditions that either side wants to appear in the document.

Additional time can go by as your attorney works on hammering out the details of this document with the at-fault party’s lawyer.

Moreover, you will need to sign a document that releases the at-fault party and their insurance carrier from any further legal action on the claim. If you already filed a lawsuit, your attorney will make a motion to dismiss the court case, and the court will instead approve the settlement agreement.

Processing the Payment and Finalizing Your Case

Once the agreement is in place, the at-fault party’s insurer will process the payment, and within a few weeks, your attorney will receive your settlement. From the settlement, they will deduct the percentage designated as their payment through the contingent fee billing method that personal injury lawyers use. They will also help you to settle any medical liens that your healthcare providers or insurers placed on your award. You will meet with the attorney to sign documentation finalizing your case, and the remainder of the award will be turned over to you.

Contact the Rawlins Law, APC’s personal injury lawyer in San Diego to assist you with your accident settlement claim today.

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