It can take a year or longer for an experienced attorney to negotiate a car accident settlement if the case is complex and the injuries suffered by their client were severe. Straightforward cases involving only minor injuries are sometimes settled in a few months.
If you are injured in a car crash and decide to take legal action against the negligent driver responsible, the amount of time that it takes to settle your claim could be measured in months…or it could drag on for a year or longer. Civil litigation is often complicated, and complicated matters take a long time to resolve when lawyers are involved. This post will cover the steps that are taken as a car accident lawsuit winds its way through the civil legal system, and it will explore the various factors that can make the process last longer.
Why Do Car Accident Lawsuits Take So Long to Settle?
Car accident cases, like all personal injury lawsuits, take a long time to settle, mainly because the two parties involved want completely different things. A settlement is only reached when one or both of the parties realize that they will have to accept a compromise. Your case could be concluded in a few months if the facts are clear, but it could drag on for a year or longer if the case is complex or you suffered serious injuries that required lengthy medical treatment.
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The Timeline of a Car Accident Case
You should get the ball rolling as soon as possible if you want your car accident case to be settled quickly, but you should also make sure that you don’t make any mistakes in the early stages that could come back to haunt you later. Make sure that you receive treatment for any injuries that you suffered and do plenty of homework before you choose a lawyer. Let’s take a look at the process from beginning to end.
Seeking Medical Treatment (1-12 Months)
The first thing that you should do after being involved in a car accident is seek medical treatment. You should do this even if you feel fine because some of the most serious car accident injuries do not present symptoms right away. Seeing a doctor immediately also prevents the negligent driver’s insurance company from claiming that your injuries are unrelated to the accident. Your attorney will probably want to wait until you have reached the point of maximum medical improvement before initiating a lawsuit.
This is when doctors think that you won’t recover any further. If you make a claim before this point, you may not receive compensation for all of your medical costs. Depending on how seriously you were injured, reaching the point of maximum medical improvement could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
Meeting With an Attorney (2-6 Months)
Choosing an attorney to represent you is probably the most important decision you will make if you decide to file a car accident lawsuit. During your initial consultation, you should ask the attorney about similar cases they have litigated in the past and how those cases turned out. You should also ask them what strategy they would follow if you hired them. The process of meetings and follow ups with attorneys can take two to six months. At Andrew Picket Law, we have recovered millions of dollars for car accident victims, and we offer our clients a free initial consultation. If you would like to discuss your case with us, you can use ouronline form to schedule a meeting.
Sending a Demand Letter (4-6 Weeks)
The demand letter your attorney sends to the other party is very important because it will form the basis for all subsequent negotiations. The demand letter will include the basic facts of the case, a description of the injuries you suffered and the medical treatment you received and a breakdown of your economic and non-economic damages. It will also state in clear and convincing terms why the other party is legally responsible for your injury, loss or damage, and it will include a lump sum figure that you will accept to settle the matter.
Filing an Insurance Claim (2-4 Weeks)
Florida is one of the 12 states with ano-fault insurance law, which means that you must file a claim with your insurance company even if another driver causes an accident. However, the no-fault coverage required by Florida law will probably not pay all of your expenses or compensate you adequately for non-economic damages like pain and suffering. This is why car accident victims in the Sunshine State often file lawsuits against negligent drivers and their insurance companies after their own claims have been paid. It usually takes two to four weeks to resolve a car accident insurance claim.
The Case Moves to Discovery (6-12 Months)
The discovery phase of a car accident lawsuit is the time when both sides are given a chance to gather information and find out what the other side plans to do. During the discovery phase, the negligent driver’s insurance company will probably try to find out about your driving record, your preexisting medical conditions and any lawsuits you have filed in the past.
You may be deposed during discovery, so be prepared. A deposition is a meeting that is usually held in a lawyer’s office where you will be asked a lot of questions. You will be under oath, so make sure that you answer honestly. Your attorney will prepare you thoroughly for your deposition, so you should know what to expect. This is the longest part of the process, and it could take anywhere from six months to a year or longer if your case is a complicated one.
Negotiation and Mediation (2-4 Weeks)
Most personal injury lawsuits in Florida are settled before they go to trial because settling saves both parties time and money. Settling cases out of court also allows insurance companies to keep the details private. When a jury awards damages, the world learns about it quickly. If settlement negotiations are unproductive, the judge the case is assigned to may order you and the other party to attend mediation sessions. This is an alternative dispute resolution method that helps to resolve contentious disputes by finding common ground. You can have a lawyer with you during mediation, but they will be there to advise you and not make arguments. If you are unhappy with the deal you are offered, you do not have to accept it. The negotiation and mediation phase usually lasts between two and four weeks.
The Case Goes to Trial (1-5 Days)
Your case will go to trial if you and your attorney conclude that the offer made by the other party does not represent a fair and full settlement for the injury, loss or damage you suffered. It could be a year or longer before the court is able to hear your case, but the trial should only last for a few days. During this time, both attorneys will have an opportunity to present evidence, call witnesses and make arguments. This is where all the hard work your attorney did during the discovery phase will pay off. Bear in mind that the end of the trial may not be the end of the case. This is because the negligent driver’s insurance company could file an appeal.
The Case Is Settled
Once the trial and appeals process has run its course or settlement talks have ended in a handshake, your case will be settled. However, reaching that point is not always easy. Personal injury lawsuits are rarely predictable, and there are many issues that can crop up between visiting an emergency room and receiving a settlement check. In the next section, we will explore some of these issues.
Factors That Can Influence Negotiations
You will probably want your car accident case to be settled as quickly as possible so you can receive your money and move on. The negligent driver’s insurance company knows this, too. Their goal will be to settle your claim for as little as possible, and they will be counting on your impatience to help them achieve it. There will be many bridges to cross and challenges to overcome before you receive a settlement check, but it should all be worthwhile if you have faith in your attorney and persevere.
How Badly You Were Injured
The severity of your injuries will have a great influence on the length of time it will take to settle your claim. This is because it will take much longer to reach the point of maximum medical improvement if you were badly hurt and needed surgery or had to endure months of painful physical therapy.
Medical Complications You Encountered During Treatment & Recovery
If you encountered medical complications during your recovery, you should expect the discovery process to last a little longer. The negligent driver’s insurance company may argue that the complications were caused by a preexisting medical condition and not your accident injuries, and they could also argue that your doctors made a mistake that they should not be held responsible for. Gathering the documents required to get to the bottom of these matters can take time.
The Insurance Company’s Negotiating Position
During settlement negotiations, one party starts low, and the other party starts high. Finding a place in the middle that both parties can live with always takes time, and it takes a lot longer if the insurer begins by making a completely unacceptable lowball offer and then acts belligerently. Negotiations could be especially tough if the insurer thinks that you are partly responsible for causing the accident.
This is because Florida has apure comparative negligence law that allows the damages awarded to accident victims to be reduced if they, as well as the other party, acted negligently. However, the law will allow you to recover damages even if you were mostly to blame as long as the other party bears at least some responsibility.
The Statutory Time Limit on Filing a Claim
Every state has a statute of limitations that places a time limit on how long accident victims must file lawsuits against negligent parties that caused them injury, loss, or damage. In Florida, thestatute of limitations gives you four years from the date of your accident to file a claim. That does not mean that your case must be completed within four years, it just means that you must submit the paperwork necessary to get the process started within that time.
Issues That Arise During Discovery
The discovery phase is so named because it is the time when both parties find things out. When an issue crops up during discovery, learning more about it may take some time. For example, if it emerges that the negligent driver may have been using their cell phone just before the accident, your attorney will likely use a subpoena to obtain their wireless service records. This is why the discovery process in complex cases can drag on for a year or longer.
The Defense Attorney Involved
Lawyers love to win and hate to lose, so they may be reluctant to settle when a case could go either way. They also get paid by the hour. Experienced attorneys know that dragging a case out could make the plaintiff impatient and more willing to accept less money. This is where your attorney should step up and show you what they can do. Judges have heavy caseloads and like to keep things moving. They do not take kindly to lawyers who prolong personal injury lawsuits for no good reason.
The Court’s Caseload
The courts in Florida areextremely busy, so your case may not go to trial for some time if your attorney is unable to reach an agreement with the other party during settlement negotiations. In 2022, more than 28,000 lawsuits were filed in Brevard County’s circuit and county courts. To put that figure into perspective, The Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, which covers Brevard County, has only 46 circuit judges and 23 county judges to hear these cases, plus all of the family law, criminal law and probate law cases filed each year. This is why judges urge personal injury litigants to reach an agreement at the negotiating table if at all possible.
The Time It Takes to Schedule a Trial
Rules imposed by the Florida Supreme Court in March 2021 and implemented in April 2021 require all judicial circuits in the state to havedifferential case management plans in place to expedite the civil litigation process. The plan in the Ninth Circuit requires judges to schedule trials in complex civil cases within a year whenever possible. Simple or “streamlined” cases are usually scheduled more quickly.
The Amount of Your Claim
Settlement negotiations are likely to take longer if your injuries were serious and you are seeking significant damages. When insurance companies must write big checks, they tend to fight to the bitter end. This is why it is important to hire an attorney with experience in these matters who will take an equally strong position. You don’t want to rush the negotiations because you will probably leave money on the table if you do.
The Insurance Company Involved
Insurance companies hire experienced and talented attorneys, so you should look for a lawyer that knows how to handle them. If your case is complex, the insurance company may have several attorneys representing them who each specialize in a different area of the law. These lawyers will all be tasked with saving their clients as much money as possible, so your attorney should be just as diligent if you want the best outcome possible.
Delaying Tactics from the Defense (Otherwise Known as the Waiting Game)
The defense will probably assume that you want to put your personal injury lawsuit behind you as soon as possible, and they may engage in pointless delaying tactics to make you impatient and more amenable to a low offer. Common defense delaying tactics include avoiding process servers, filing motions to dismiss cases, asking judges for a change of venue and filing appeals with little or no chance of success.
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Finalizing a Car Accident Settlement in Florida
You have undergone medical treatment, coped with delaying tactics and legal tricks and endured the discovery process, but all of that now seems worthwhile because your attorney has negotiated a settlement with the negligent driver’s insurance company that you find acceptable. However, don’t expect to receive your check right away. Before that happens, there are a few tasks that will have to be completed.
Accepting the Settlement Offer and Signing a Release
After you have reviewed and accepted the settlement offer, the negligent driver’s insurance company will ask you to sign a release before they issue a check. This is basically a letter in which you agree to waive your right to make any further claims against the insurance company or negligent driver in connection with the accident. You should ask your attorney to scrutinize the release before you sign it as these documents can be quite complex. If the release infringes on your legal rights, your attorney may contact the insurance company to negotiate new terms.
Waiting for the Settlement Check
Some insurance companies process car accident lawsuit settlements faster than others, but your attorney should receive the check between three and six weeks after the release is signed. However, there are still some administrative tasks that will have to be completed before you receive your money.
Paying Any Outstanding Liens
The first of these administrative tasks is paying any outstanding liens. These are claims against the settlement made by government agencies, health care providers or insurance companies. The government could place a lien against you claim for unpaid child support, and hospitals or health insurance providers may make claims related to the treatment you received after the accident.
Paying Legal Costs and Attorney Fees
After any outstanding liens have been paid, your attorney will deduct their fees and any costs they incurred while pursuing your case from the remaining balance. These fees should not come as a surprise because they will all be listed on the fee agreement that you signed before your lawsuit was filed. Common costs attorneys pay in personal injury cases include filing fees and court costs, the fees charged by expert witnesses and the costs of obtaining medical documents. Your attorney should provide you with an itemized list of all of the fees associated with your case.
Receiving Your Settlement Check
Any outstanding liens connected to your case have now been paid, and your attorney has deducted their costs and fees, which means everything that had to be done has been done. Your attorney will know that you have waited a long time for this moment, so they will probably send you the balance of the settlement funds without delay. Congratulations! Your case is completed, and you can move on.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked car accident lawsuit questions. If you have a question that is not answered in this section, you can use ouronline form to ask it.
How Long Do Most Car Accident Settlements Take?
This all depends on how complex your case is and how eager the other party is to settle it. Your claim could be resolved in a few months if the facts are straightforward, but the process will take at least a year if you were severely injured, and your case goes to trial.
How Long Does It Take to Negotiate a Settlement?
Negotiations over small amounts can sometimes be wrapped up in a few days, but settlement talks will probably last for weeks or even months if there is a lot of money at stake.
How Much Are Most Car Accident Settlements?
Car accident settlements can be as low as a few thousand dollars, or they could be measured in millions. The amount you receive will be determined by the facts in your case and the skills of your attorney. At Andrew Picket Law, we have negotiatedsettlements of $2,531,666, $2,035,000, $575,000, $500,000, $310,000, $350,000, $225,000 and $200,000 on behalf of car, motorcycle and bicycle accident victims.
How Do You Negotiate a Successful Settlement?
With great care and diligence. Attorneys know that their clients have suffered injuries and are relying on them, so they prepare for settlement negotiations thoroughly. Attorneys use what they have learned during discovery to anticipate the questions they will be asked and the objections they will face, which usually leads to a successful outcome.
Why Is My Lawyer Taking So Long to Settle My Case?
Your lawyer is almost certainly doing the very best that they can. The law rarely moves quickly, and this is especially true when personal injury plaintiffs were involved in car accidents that caused serious injuries.
How Long Until I Get My Settlement Check After I Agree?
The insurance company should send out a settlement check in about three weeks. It will then take your attorney another week or so to pay any outstanding liens and cut you a check for the balance.
How Long After a Demand Letter Does Settlement Take?
The demand letter is the first step in a car accident lawsuit, so the time between sending it and receiving a settlement check can be anywhere from a few months to over a year.
How Long Do You Have to Accept a Settlement Offer
There is no strict time limit for accepting settlement offers, but it may be a good idea to act quickly if the offer is generous and the other party could reconsider their position. However, you should not seem too eager to settle as this could make your attorney’s job much more difficult.
How Long Does It Take for an Insurance Company to Offer Settlement?
This all depends on the insurance company involved, the facts of the case and the amount of money on the line. If your attorney does a thorough job during discovery and finds out all of the relevant facts, you will probably receive a settlement offer sooner rather than later.
How Long Does an Insurance Company Have to Settle a Claim in Florida?
Insurance companies can offer to settle car accident lawsuits right up until the jury returns a verdict. It is not uncommon in complex cases for settlements to be reached while the jury is deliberating. However, trials are expensive and take place in public, so most personal injury cases are settled long before they go to court.
Does Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer Have a Big Impact on Receiving a Settlement Sooner?
Absolutely. Attorneys who have negotiated many car accident settlements will know what to expect from the other party, which should give them a significant advantage during negotiations. If your lawyer has dealt with insurance companies before, they are less likely to be sidetracked by irrelevant questions or minor issues.
How Quickly Should You Settle Your Claim?
You should settle your claim when you receive an offer that you find acceptable and not a moment before. That said, you should also listen to your lawyer if they tell you that your hopes are unrealistic. An experienced attorney should have a pretty good idea of what your claim is worth, so their advice should be heeded.
Can I Still Settle During a Car Accident Lawsuit?
Both parties in a civil lawsuit can settle at any time up until a jury delivers a verdict. Once that happens, the case is over, and the defendant can either pay up of file an appeal.