Every car accident claim is different. The amount of time before a claim can or should be settled depends on a number of factors. A simple uncontested property damage claim may settle in just a few weeks. On the other hand, if there are disputes over coverage, liability, or damages, it can take years to sort out all issues before the case settles. However, one thing that will make the length of the process a little easier to manage is having an attorney involved early in the process. An experienced car accident attorney can guide you in making critical decisions about the case which can have a big impact on settlement offers the insurance company may make to resolve the claim.
One of the mistakes we often see car accident victims make is trying to settle a claim without hiring an attorney. Some folks think this will save them money. However, any reputable car accident attorney works on a contingency fee basis meaning they do not get paid unless they make a recovery. And, more often than not, simply having an attorney involved will result in better settlement offers because the insurance company knows they can’t get away with lowball offers. Plus, an experienced car accident attorney can make sure you take the steps necessary to get the medical treatment you need which also can increase the value of your case.
Without an attorney, adjusters often will try to settle claims right after an accident. That might seem enticing. However, they are doing this for their benefit and not yours. We never recommend settling a case right after an accident because it is hard to know what impact the accident may have on your health long term.
Always call an experienced car accident attorney after an accident to discuss the issues, evaluate your options, and get advice on what to do next. A knowledgeable forecast about what to expect will be tailored to the issues in your case.
Every Case is Different
Every car accident presents different issues. The various issues can include parties, the extent of damages, whether liability is disputed, and the extent and relatedness of medical treatment and other damages. In the end, the interplay of all these factors will determine how long it takes to settle your case.
Factors that Can Affect How Long it will Take for Your Claim to Settle
Some of the factors about your case can impact the impact the timeline of the case and when it settles. A few of the more complicated issues are discussed below.
Liability is Contested
One of the most significant issues impacting how long before a case might settle is whether liability is contested. If liability is contested, a number of additional – and time-consuming – steps will have to be taken. Also, if liability is being contested, you should not attempt to proceed without an experienced car accident attorney on your side.
The insurance company will do everything they can to develop facts it can use to deny your claim based on a liability issue. This includes trying to get you to make statements in a recorded statement. Do not give them a recorded statement without speaking with an experienced car accident attorney.
Investigating the Case
One of the first steps necessary in handling any car accident case is to investigate. This is a service we provide to our car accident clients. We recommend obtaining contact information from all witnesses who may have seen the collision. We also recommend obtaining a copy of the police report and we will discuss what the officer observed and whether the parties involved made any statements beyond what is included in the official police report. Additionally, if you are able, take pictures of the accident scene and the vehicles before they are moved. That can be critical in assessing who is more credible in their testimony about how the collision occurred.
Once the facts are known, if you have retained an attorney, he or she will evaluate those facts and consider the impact on the liability or other issues in the case. We recommend discussing the investigation with the attorney, what was learned, and the impact on the case. Having been in the accident, you may be a critical witness and can help significantly with the attorney’s investigation.
As with the witness statements, the documentary evidence will have to be reviewed. Depending on how much there is of it, how complicated it might be, and how extensive the disputed issues are, this could be a time-consuming process.
The insurance company may also contend the harm or “damages” caused to the injured party were not really caused by the accident. The more severe the injuries, especially if they are not clearly acute in nature, the more motivated they insurance company will be to dispute your claim. Examples of these types of injuries are traumatic brain injuries (concussion-type injuries) or spinal cord injuries. The cause of these types of injuries are not always clear, but can have devastating and life-altering consequences that result in very large medical bills and expenses.
These are the types of injuries where we see insurance companies rush in early on to offer a very low settlement. They are incentivized to get you to accept a bad settlement that does not fully account for your injuries and the harms caused to you. These are also the types of cases where we see insurance companies fighting hard to contest injuries by hiring their own lawyers and paid “experts” to testify that the injured person is making it up. In either case, having a lawyer fighting on your side can be extremely helpful in getting the insurance company to settle your claim for what you deserve.
Types of Damages Likely to be Contested
Compensatory damages generally come in three types in a personal injury case: economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. The maximum payment for punitive damages is the greater of $250,000 or three times the total compensatory damages awarded.
Depending on the type of damages and the facts unique to your case, the insurance company could contest your damages.
Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are not intended to compensate you for your injuries. Rather, they are designed to deter future conduct like that which caused your injuries. Punitive damages are, as noted above, capped and are usually only available in the case of willful, wanton, or reckless conduct. It requires a thorough investigation and careful legal analysis to assess whether punitive damages are available in any given case.
Economic damages are those that can be fairly easily documented by receipts, invoices, and other records. They will usually include things like medical and hospital bills, drug expenses, therapy, lost wages, and assistive equipment.
We routinely see insurance companies claim injured parties received treatment that is unreasonable, and are malingering or missed time at work due to reasons other than their injuries. This could lead to a contested claim for economic damages. It is important to work with an attorney early on in your claim to make sure you get the necessary documentation from your doctor and employer to make sure you are compensated for the full extent of your medical treatment and your economic damages for missed time at work.
Non-economic damages can be more difficult to prove than economic damages. They include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of consortium, loss of earning capacity, and other intangible but severe types of damages. Because these damages are, to at least some extent, speculative and can depend on the credibility of the injured person, the insurance company may dispute a claim for pain and suffering.
You Should Be Represented by an Attorney from the Start
The issues surrounding a contested personal injury case can significantly delay any possible settlement. Where claims are more extensive and potentially expensive, the insurance company will battle harder to limit your recovery. For this reason, as well as for the possible complications of your case, it is essential that you have an experienced car accident attorney on your side from the start.
Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Consultation with a Wilmington Car Accident Attorney
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a North Carolina car accident, you should seek experienced counsel right away. Let us help you by getting involved in your case early on to make sure you get a settlement or outcome that accounts for your injuries. Contact us online or call 810-490-4247 today for an initial consultation and case evaluation.