LEGAL GUIDE
Written by Avvo Staff | Oct 14, 2015

How long does it take to reach a personal injury settlement?

The time it takes to receive a personal injury settlement depends on your case and how much compensation you’re asking for. Often, you can accept low-ball offers in a matter of weeks. However, the best settlements often require patience and skilled negotiations that can take months or even years.

The process of obtaining a settlement falls into 3 phases: making a demand, negotiating the offer, and reaching a settlement.

Phase 1: Making a demand

Here are the steps involved in the first stage after the accident.

Receive treatment

You want to seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Keep track of all your medical treatments and appointments and consider documenting the pain and symptoms you experience as well. Once your treatment concludes, you can proceed with your claim.

Hire an attorney and send a demand letter

When you find an attorney, they might advise you to wait to send a written demand letter until you've finished any medical treatment related to the injury.

Only after you've fully recovered will you know how much the injury cost you. You should allow another month or two after that to gather all the necessary records.

You then send a demand letter that explains your side of the case and asks the insurance adjuster, or other party, to send a certain dollar amount to settle the case. The letter also explains that if your demand isn't met, you'll file a lawsuit.

If you haven't heard from the adjuster in 3 to 4 weeks, your attorney will likely follow up with a call.

Phase 2: Negotiating the settlement offer

Depending on the complexity of your injury, the insurance company may want a few additional weeks to evaluate your claim. Once that step is complete, they will likely point out weaknesses in your claim, such as unnecessary treatments or any liability questions.

Based on those objections, the insurance company will issue a counteroffer to the figure in your demand letter. Typically, this is a low-ball offer that the insurer uses to test your eagerness and willingness to settle. At this point, your attorney can make another offer or walk away from negotiations.

Factors that affect the negotiation

If you're not ready to file a suit yet, your attorney can proceed in negotiating with the insurance company. This process may take weeks or months depending on how much money is involved and the seriousness and nature of your injuries. Negotiations typically address:

  • Fault. Who is liable for the accident or how much liability each party bears.

  • The extent of your injuries. Whether your injuries or illnesses from the accident are disabling or have other long-term consequences.

  • Coverage. Does the defendant's policy actually cover the type of accident involved?

  • The type of medical treatment. Whether the medical care and therapy you received were medically necessary and whether you had any preexisting conditions that exacerbated your injuries.

Filing a claim

If you still haven't received a good settlement after negotiating with the insurer, your attorney will help you file a lawsuit against the defendant. This is a negotiations tactic known as "the walkaway." Proceeding with a lawsuit shows the insurance company you're serious about a good settlement.

How long this lasts will depend on how badly you need money and how close you are to the statute of limitations. If you don't have time or money for lengthy negotiations, filing earlier might be the best strategy.

Regardless of whether you take your case to court, having an attorney on your side will help. Personal injury attorneys are skilled in negotiating and know how insurance adjusters work. Likewise, a lawyer will know how to proceed with your claim in court if it comes to that.

Phase 3: Reaching a settlement

This phase will be different depending on whether you proceeded with your case in court. Here's what you can expect from both processes: negotiation and litigation.

Reaching a resolution through litigation

If you file a lawsuit and see it through to a verdict, the amount you'll receive is called an "award," "judgment," or "damages" rather than a settlement. The amount you receive is determined by a judge in a bench trial or a jury in a jury trial.

The litigation process for personal injury settlements often takes a year or more, from the time you file until you receive a judgment. The length of the trial itself will depend on the complexity. You may be in trial for a few days or a few weeks.

If the insurer appeals the verdict, you may face a year or two of appeals processes. If the defendant doesn't appeal by the time the 30-day window to do so expires, you can then expect to receive your check in a matter of weeks.

Reaching a resolution through negotiations

Here are the steps required to finalize your settlement:

1. Report the settlement to the court. If you've filed a lawsuit, you need to let the court know the case has settled so it can issue an order of settlement.

2. Sign a release. Before you receive your settlement, the defendant's attorneys will want you and probably your spouse to sign a release. Signing the release means you are forever giving up your right to sue the party who caused your injuries. The release will also set forth the terms of the settlement.

3. Complete all paperwork within 30-60 days. Depending on the court, you will need to complete all settlement paperwork within 30-60 days of the settlement order. This process can be handled quickly if attorneys agree on the terms of the release. Otherwise, a judge must decide.

4. Pay unpaid medical bills/liens. You'll usually receive your settlement within a few weeks after finishing the paperwork. You'll first have to pay any unpaid medical expenses and satisfy any medical liens against your settlement. A medical lien is a legal right to your assets from someone who paid for your medical expenses.

5. Pay your attorney's fees and expenses. Your attorney will usually take one-third of your settlement. You'll also have to reimburse your lawyer for any expenses.

6. Receive a check from your attorney. Your attorney will issue you a check for the amount that's left over.

7. Taxes. Compensation for physical injuries is tax-free. However, punitive damages and damages awarded for emotional distress are treated as taxable income.

The road to negotiating personal injury settlements can be long. With the help of an attorney, you can ensure you use the right strategies to get the best possible offer.

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