When you suffer injuries in a car accident, your bills add up fast. You likely have medical bills to manage and vehicle repairs to cover. Severe injuries can cause you to miss out on time at work, leading to further financial challenges.
Unfortunately, car accident settlements do not often progress smoothly. In many cases, especially those involving injuries, it can take months to recover funds from a car accident settlement. In the meantime, you may have to find effective strategies for managing your bills and handling your financial challenges.
Once you reach a settlement agreement, the insurance company usually has 30 days to pay out the compensation you owe. Ultimately, seeking and receiving compensation may prove more difficult than expected.
1. The Car Accident Settlement Timeline
You have a car accident. Now what? Several steps need to happen before you can receive a settlement.
If you suffered injuries in your car accident, talk to a lawyer about your accident and your claim before moving through the claim process. Often, car accident attorneys may recommend that you wait until you have a solid idea of your recovery path before you move forward with your claim.While you may feel frustrated about the financial challenges of your accident and want to start the process as soon as possible, waiting to file your claim can offer several critical advantages.
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You may need time to realize what your long-term medical costs will be.
Medical costs can vary dramatically depending on the specific injuries you suffered, where you receive treatment, and any setbacks and complications on your road to recovery. While you can find estimates for the cost of your medical care, those estimates may not take your specific needs or the complications you face during your recovery into account.
Your medical costs will serve as a vital foundation for the injury claim after your car accident. If you do not know what your medical bills will look like, you may inadvertently underestimate the compensation you need for your injuries. If you have already settled your claim when those complications come to light, you may not have the funds to move forward with your treatment or to rebuild your life.
In the case of many types of injuries, your doctors may need time to determine how much you will recover.
Many severe injuries, including brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, make it very difficult to predict the course of recovery. It may take your doctors six months or more to have a reasonable idea of your recovery, including potential long-term limitations.
Will you have the capacity to return to work despite your injuries? Will your injuries prevent you from enjoying your favorite activities, including hobbies or time with friends and loved ones, long-term? These elements may impact your compensation for your car accident injuries, but your doctors may not know the answer to those questions until long after your initial accident. You can have a more accurate injury claim that better reflects your specific needs and challenges by waiting to file your claim.
2. The Investigation
It can take considerable time, often more than anticipated, to fully investigate a car accident claim. Assuming that you report the accident and begin working with a lawyer, the investigation process will typically start while you recover from your injuries.
An investigation into a standard car accident claim involves looking at the basic details of the accident. For example, your attorney and the insurance company will want to talk with witnesses who saw the accident, review video footage and photos, and look over the police report.
Some investigations, however, may involve a much more complex look at the specifics of your accident.
#I. Commercial Vehicle Accidents
If a commercial driver hits you while on the clock, the driver’s employer may share liability for the incident. Companies may share liability when they have unreasonable policies that increase the risk of an accident or require drivers to continue to drive despite dangerous conditions.
Your lawyer may look into several details of the company, including:
Investigating a company may, in many cases, take considerably longer than investigating the driver directly. However, a full investigation into the company can uncover many details about your accident that make it easier for you to seek the compensation you need.
#II. Mechanical Failures
A range of mechanical failures can potentially cause serious accidents. For example, a tire blowout, steering failure, or brake problem can all spell disaster out on the road, especially at high rates of speed.
If the investigation uncovers a mechanical failure that caused or contributed to your accident, your attorney may look further into the mechanical failure, including how it occurred and who bears liability for that failure.
- Did the company know about a potential problem with a specific vehicle or part, but fail to issue a recall?
- Did the company put out damaged parts or vehicles?
- Did a mechanic recently work on the vehicle and create a dangerous error that led to the accident?
In cases of mechanical failure of either vehicle, it may prove necessary to identify why the vehicle suffered a mechanical failure, including what factors contributed to that failure or whether driver error caused it.
#III. Medical Concerns
The insurance company’s investigation into the car accident will frequently look into your medical concerns after an accident. You may provide copies of your medical records or statements from your doctor and a breakdown of your medical bills to help establish the costs you faced for treatment for your injuries. In some cases, the insurance company may use that information to create the basis for your claim. However, in other cases, the insurance company might further look at your medical concerns and how they may impact your right to compensation.
The insurance company can talk to outside medical experts to better understand how a specific injury might impact a person after an accident or what long-term treatment you most likely need for your injuries. In other cases, the insurance company might want you to see an “independent” medical evaluator to show your actual capabilities are greater than you claim.
#IV. Expert Witnesses
Expert witnesses can provide valuable testimony making it easier to piece together exactly what caused a car accident or what compensation the victim deserves. Expert witnesses help recreate the accident scene and determine which driver likely bears liability, especially in disputed liability cases.
The insurance company or your lawyer might bring in expert witnesses to look at the vehicle, especially if the vehicle suffered mechanical damage or error that led to the accident.
Expert witnesses often provide an essential outside perspective. However, it can take time to locate and bring in an expert witness who will testify on car accident concerns. In the meantime, while you wait for information from the witness, your claim pauses.
The negotiation process in a car accident claim often drags out longer than you anticipate.
In some cases, you may initially feel that the insurance company wants to arrive at a fast settlement agreement. The insurance company may offer a quick settlement offer. However, have your lawyer review any offer before you accept it. The initial offers from the insurance company often fail to account for the full extent of the car accident victim’s needs. The insurance company may deliberately try to limit the compensation in its initial offer to reduce what it owes you for your injuries.
Always talk to a lawyer about your settlement offers to determine if they meet your needs.
Your Demand Package
Your lawyer will help you put together a demand package listing the compensation you expect for your injuries, including a breakdown of the financial losses you sustained from the accident. Your lawyer may submit this to counter the insurance company’s initial settlement or as an opening to pursue compensation for your injuries.
In many cases, by working closely with a lawyer, you can negotiate with the insurance company to arrive at a reasonable settlement agreement that fits your needs and allows the insurance company to follow its policies. However, you may go through several rounds of negotiation to reach that agreement. It may take time to arrive at an agreement that fits these criteria.
If you cannot reach an acceptable agreement with the insurance company, you may have one last step before you have to take your claim to court: mediation. Mediation offers both sides a final chance to avoid going to court. You sit down, lay out your case before a mediator, and receive advice about what you can expect if you take your case to court.
Both sides will have the opportunity to offer their evidence and points, including a review of the relevant insurance policy and any other information that can help the mediator decide about your claim. Then, the mediator offers advice about what to expect and makes an offer to reach a settlement agreement.
If you accept this offer, you can move forward and receive your settlement. If you cannot reach an agreement, you will have to take your claim to court.
Waiting for mediation can significantly extend the timeline on many car accident claims since you have to wait for a mediator’s availability.
While most car accident claims do settle out of court, if you cannot agree with the insurance company, you may need to take your car accident claim to court. If you have to wait for a court date, you might have to wait even longer for your car accident settlement. In court, your lawyer and the insurance company will present your case, and the judge or jury will issue a verdict.
Contact a Lawyer for Help Streamlining the Car Accident Settlement Process
While you should expect car accident settlements to take time, do not spend months bogged down by them. Working with a lawyer can make it easier to streamline the settlement process while raising the odds that you receive the full compensation you deserve for your car accident injuries.
If you find yourself struggling with the insurance company, including scenarios where you only need to claim compensation for property damage, contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your rights.