When a personal injury claim is pending, at some point it will be time to try to resolve, or settle, the case. The most pressing questions are, "When should I try to settle?" and, "How much should I ask for?" Understanding the settlement process and Washington State laws for personal injury claims will ensure you get the most you're entitled to.
Before you should even consider settling your case, you need to know the full nature and extent of the injury you suffered as a result of the accident. Usually, this requires waiting until all medical treatment is complete. A common mistake is trying to settle your case too quickly. Frequently, people settle their cases in the days following the accident, before they know whether they will need substantial medical care. Do not make that mistake. Don't attempt to resolve your case until you have a good understanding of the type and severity of your injury.
Typically, settling your case will involve the third-party insurance company of the person who caused the accident. However, if that person was uninsured, or his/her insurance limits are insufficient to fully compensate you for your injury, then the process may involve your own (first-party) insurance company. In situations where underinsured motorist or uninsured motorist coverage is available, your insurance company steps into the shoes of the responsible person and must pay any and all damages that person would be liable for.
The law limits the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit against the person or people who caused your injury. This limit is called the Statute of Limitations. In Washington, the Statute of Limitations for negligence is generally 3 years. This means that if a lawsuit has not been filed against all responsible people prior to the 3-year anniversary of the accident, then you will never be able to get compensation from those responsible for your injuries. It is crucial to speak with an attorney who can deterime exactly when the Statute of Limitations time period will expire in your case. Only an attorney who has asked you the appropriate questions can tell you for sure when your deadline is.
Although you may have up to 3 years to file a lawsuit, it is not a good idea to wait even close to that long before taking action. If an insurance company is not making a fair offer to settle your case, then the only option you have is to file a lawsuit directly against the person who caused the accident. Insurance companies will almost never make fair or reasonable offers to people who are not represented by attorneys. Insurance companies will try to make as much money as they can, and the way they do that is by settling cases for as little as they can.
Only an experienced personal injury attorney can give you a realistic idea of what your case may settle for, and the attorney can only do so after he or she has had a chance to review all of the relevant medical records. It takes time to prepare a case to get the maximum amount in a settlement or lawsuit. You will be best served by consulting an attorney early in the process. One common mistake is made when people wait to contact an attorney until there are only a few months left before the 3-year anniversary of the accident. This puts attorneys in a very difficult situation; many will not take a case so close to the expiration of the Statute of Limitations.
You should consult with a personal injury attorney early in this process to ensure that you get the best possible settlement. Most attorneys who handle auto accidents will give a free consultation.
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