While the length of time will vary because of the unique circumstances in each case, the car accident settlement timeline can take anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. If you have been in a car accident, it is natural to wonder how long the settlement process will take. Each car accident case follows a similar settlement process. The largest factors affecting the timeline are whether the parties are willing to compromise, and whether there are disputed facts.
Car Accident Settlement Process
Nevada law requires every owner of a vehicle to have insurance coverage for car accidents. Vehicle owners are required to have at least $25,000 in case of death or bodily injury of one person, $50,000 in case of death or injury of two or more persons, and $20,000 for damage or destruction of property in an accident. Because of this mandatory insurance coverage, most of the car accident settlement process happens with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, rather than with the at-fault driver.
A settlement is an agreement between the two parties where the offending party, or his or her insurance company, pays the other party. In exchange, the innocent party does not take the matter to court. Most cases settle rather than go to court to avoid the chance of receiving an unfavorable ruling. Reaching a settlement agreement is also desirable for the innocent party so that he or she can receive payment as soon as possible.
Immediately After the Accident Happens
There are several things that should be done immediately after an accident. You should first offer reasonable assistance to any injured people. You should also collect evidence at the scene that may help with your claim later. This includes swapping insurance information with other drivers involved in the crash, collecting names and contact information of witnesses, and taking photographs of hazards contributing to the accident, as well as the vehicles themselves. Law enforcement must be notified so that they can attend the scene and prepare an accident report.
You should seek medical treatment as soon as possible after an accident. A doctor can properly identify and treat your injuries. Keep copies of all medical bills, receipts, medical records, and test results. This will document your injuries to make sure that you can receive full compensation later. Continue to document follow-up treatment, as well as any expenses that pop up while you are recovering.
Getting an attorney as soon as possible is also important. Your attorney can assist you by showing you how to file a car insurance claim, communicating with the insurance company, putting together evidence to show the full extent of your injuries, and performing an initial investigation. He or she will help you through the settlement process and take the matter to court if necessary.
These steps can all be taken both immediately, and in the days following the accident. Getting proper medical treatment and reaching a full recovery, however, can take months or years.
Sending a Demand Letter
Your attorney will gather evidence and then write a demand letter to the at-fault driver and his or her insurer.
This evidence includes medical records and financial records to prove the financial losses you have suffered. It also includes witness interviews to get the full story of what happened during the accident. This evidence is essential, as it provides proof to justify your claim in the demand letter.
A demand letter typically contains:
- Relevant facts pertaining to the matter.
- The extent of your injuries and damages.
- A statement of fault.
- Monetary compensation that you are claiming.
- Non-monetary compensation that you are claiming, such as repairs.
- Intent to file a lawsuit if you do not receive compensation within a given deadline.
It can usually take about 2 to 6 months for your attorney to gather all this evidence and draft the demand letter.
Receiving a Response
Once you have sent the letter, the insurance company will typically respond within 4 to 6 weeks. In their response, the insurance company can do one of four things. The first is to accept your demand, pay your compensation and have the matter settled. Alternatively, they could make a counteroffer, which you can accept, receive the car accident insurance payout, and settle the matter. The insurance company can also refuse the claim entirely, or simply not respond at all.
At this point, the matter can go one of three ways. If the initial offer or counteroffer is accepted, the matter is settled and goes away. If the insurance company accepts the claim, but neither the amount claimed nor offered is accepted, negotiations can begin between both sides to agree on an amount for settlement. Finally, if an amount cannot be agreed upon, or the insurance company denies the claim, you can begin the court process.
Filing a Lawsuit
If negotiations are not successful, your motor vehicle accident attorney will initiate a lawsuit. At this point, there is an entirely new process that begins with its own timelines. The first step in a lawsuit is to file a complaint, which initiates the lawsuit. Then the defendant responds by admitting or denying the allegations made. Next is discovery, which is gathering and presenting evidence. Finally, the matter will move to trial. A lawsuit will extend the car accident settlement timeline by many months.
Negotiations can continue throughout this entire process. A settlement can be reached at any point, right up until the parties enter the courtroom for the trial.
Why Is Your Car Accident Settlement Taking So Long?
When you start the car accident settlement process, the matter may seem simple – you were injured, the other driver was at fault, and the insurance company should pay compensation. However, there are reasons for the process taking longer than may seem necessary.
Overall, the car accident claim process is complex. You must find a lawyer, prepare and send the demand letter, wait for the response, do discovery, negotiate a settlement, prepare and wait for trial if necessary, and wait for the payout.
Gathering evidence takes time. You need this evidence to prove your damages, as well as the fault of the other driver, to show that you are entitled to compensation. There are lots of documents that can be gathered and presented as evidence, including reports, photographs, medical records and bills, witness statements, and so forth.
Calculating damages is also complicated and can be time-consuming. You may need to wait for your injuries to heal to reach MMI. This allows you to determine the maximum extent of your injuries and required medical care to determine damages. You will then also need to determine any ongoing care to calculate and prove future expenses and damages.
Factors That Impact the Car Accident Settlement Timeline
There are several factors that can affect the timeline of a car accident settlement.
Parties’ Willingness to Compromise
If the insurance company and the victim are both willing to compromise, it can make negotiations much quicker. Some insurance companies recognize that it saves money to settle sooner, rather than go through the negotiation process or to trial, and will be willing to compromise.
Sometimes, the injured person is facing financial pressure and wants to settle quickly to cover medical bills or lost wages. If the parties are not willing to compromise at all, the matter will have to go through the entire process, including trial.
The parties might disagree on who was at fault, and the extent of the victim’s injuries. Nevada has comparative fault laws, meaning that if you were partly at fault, then your claim is reduced by the percentage of your fault, and if you were more than 50% at fault, you lose the claim entirely.
Disputes about the extent of injuries will affect the settlement offer. If there are disputes about either of these factors, parties will need to look hard for evidence to strengthen their side of the story, which can slow down the process significantly.
Other factors affecting the timeline are:
- Whether the defendant is insured, and who the insurer is.
- If there are several plaintiffs or defendants.
- The complexity of the case, as well as your injuries.
- The strength of your evidence.
- The time to reach MMI.
- The court is backlogged.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Settlement Check?
Each claim is different, but it usually takes anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks to get your settlement check for personal injuries. First, the release form gets signed to waive your right to pursue further claims. Then, the insurance company issues your check. Your attorney will deposit the check into a trust account and pay your liens, such as unpaid medical bills. Your attorney will then deduct his or her legal fees. After this, your attorney forwards a check to you with the remaining settlement. You then have your car accident insurance payout as settlement and your matter is finished.
For more information on filing a claim, see our car accident claim survival guide.