Settling A Car Accident Case

Car accident settlements can either be very stressful or they can go smoothly. There are many factors to determine how long it could take to settle. Accident settlements follow a process of steps, but the length of each step varies by case. 

A case will normally settle when one side feels as though they would have no chance to win in court, or if one side finds strong evidence of the other's fault in the accident. Most settlements will occur in between discovery and the actual trial. The settlement process alone can take a long time depending on evidence you have and the willingness of the insurance company to settle. If there are disputes than the process will take longer. 

The Car Accident Settlement Process

It is important to know that the car accident settlement process has many steps involved, so make sure to do your research before you file a claim. This will help ensure things go as smoothly as possible.

Below is the settlement process broken down by steps:

  1. Filing The Claim. If you are involved in an accident, you should file a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company. Most insurance companies have an online claim process for your claim. If you have any confusion with the process, never hesitate to reach out to an attorney to ask for advice. It is always important to make sure you know what you're doing when engaging with insurance companies.
  2. Investigation Time. Following the filing of your claim, the insurer will begin an investigation. They will review the accident and police report, consult experts, review your medical records and take your statement. Always be careful during this process. The insurer may often times overstep and ask you to sign off on all of your medical history. This can damage your case, so always make sure you understand what you are agreeing to.
  3. Independent Investigation. The insurer's investigation will always be done in a way to protect itself and its client. This is why it is important to conduct an investigation of your own. Obtain your own copy of the police report, obtain and review photos and hire your own expert witness. 
  4. Insurance Claim Result. Following their investigation, the insurer will notify you of whether they approve or deny your claim
    • Claim Denial: If your claim is denied, then you would contact an auto accident attorney.
    • Claim Approval: The insurer will send you a settlement offer. Usually, they start low and you are not required to accept the first offer. You have every right to deny and ask for more 
  5. Negotiating A Settlement. It is important to understand that you will be going up against experienced insurance adjusters and attorneys who have full knowledge of personal injury law. They may attempt to intimidate you, so understand that they are attempting to save their company's money rather than help you.
  6. Mediation. In the event of trouble between you and the insurance adjuster during negotiations, you can request for a mediator. This would be an objective third party who can sit in and keep the conversation on track. You are more than welcome to bring your attorney to these meetings.
  7. Finalizing The Settlement. If you decide to settle and agree on the sum, you will sign a waiver which waves your right to take the insurance company to court for that case after you have received the settlement. If the personal injury lawsuit is ongoing when you settle, you would be required to drop the lawsuit.
  8. Filing A Lawsuit. In the event that you and the insurance company can not come to a settlement, then this would be the time that you should file a lawsuit. Utilize your attorney to help you file the suit and gather evidence.

As you can see, the settlement process alone can take a long time.

You will find that a majority of cases will settle before ever reaching the civil lawsuit process. However, things start to get more complicated if there is a dispute about the cause of the crash or the scale of damages/injuries. If the settlement ever got to that point, then this is when a car accident lawsuit would become more likely.

Car Accident Lawsuit Process

A car accident lawsuit is broken down into steps. There are many small steps in between, but these are the main steps of the process:

  1. The lawsuit process officially begins when the plaintiff files the car accident lawsuit.
  2. The plaintiff has to serve the defendant with a copy of the lawsuit. This step can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on whether the defendant was difficulty of tracking down the defendant.
  3. The defendant has to answer the lawsuit. The timeline for this varies depending on the court where the lawsuit is pending. The defendant will receive about a month to respond to the plaintiff.\
  4. This step in the process is when discovery would begin. Each side will request information and exchange information relevant to the case in order to build up their evidence.
  5. The trial begins. On average, a car accident trial takes about 1 to 2 days to complete
  6. Potential appeal process. Each side can appeal if they were unhappy with the results. Although there are several levels of appeals, just one level of appeal could add several years to the case.

​Takeaways

From start to finish, a car accident case can take about a year to complete, which does not take into account the time spent working through the settlement process. As you can see there are many steps in the process and it is of high importance to remain in charge of your settlement. You want to be confident during the process and avoid intimidation tactics from the insurance adjuster. Remember to be strategic when negotiating. You are not required to accept the first settlement offer. Do not be afraid to negotiate for a higher sum that you feel is deserved. Be patient, do not rush the process, and reach out to attorneys for help if you do not understand something.

Brian Glass
Virginia personal injury lawyer selected to SuperLawyers Rising Stars List and the NTLA's Top 40 Under 40.