A car accident settlement normally takes anywhere between a month and a year, depending on various factors discussed below. Also, some car accident cases do not settle but go to trial. Cases that do not settle frequently take more than a year to resolve.
Here’s a brief primer on the auto accident settlement process from our experienced car accident lawyers.
What is a settlement?
A settlement is an agreement to resolve a car accident claim.
The parties to a settlement usually are:
- The injured car accident victim.
- The party at fault for the accident.
- The at-fault party’s liability insurance company.
In the typical settlement, the at-fault party and its insurer agree to pay money to the injured victim in exchange for the victim agreeing to release those parties from further liability for the injuries and losses the victim suffered.
Settlements are final. Once agreed upon, they end the injured victim’s legal claim against the at-fault party and that party’s insurer.
The Basic Settlement Process
As we explain above, the amount of time it takes to achieve a settlement can vary, and some cases do not settle. But despite the variations in the timeline, most car accident cases follow a basic process for getting to a settlement if one occurs. Here’s an overview of that process.
The car accident victim takes the very first step in the settlement process by hiring a car accident lawyer. The sooner the victim takes this step, the sooner the rest of the process can begin.
Once hired, an attorney usually starts by investigating the accident, gathering evidence of what happened, who is to blame, and the scope of the crash victim’s damages. A lawyer needs that information to know where to pursue compensation and how much compensation to demand on a client’s behalf. This process may vary in time depending on the complexity of the case and the availability of the evidence and information the lawyer seeks.
Demand for Payment of Damages
In the next step of the settlement process, the car accident victim’s lawyer prepares a demand for payment of the victim’s damages and sends it to the party at fault (and, if known, that party’s insurance company). The demand usually comes in a written letter explaining the factual and legal basis of the victim’s claim for damages and requesting compensation. Alternatively, a demand may start as a formal complaint that starts a lawsuit in court.
A demand, in a nutshell, puts the at-fault party and that party’s insurer on notice of the claim and gets the ball rolling on potential settlement discussions. Preparing a demand usually doesn’t take more than a week or two (and often less) once the lawyer for the car accident victim has the information needed to back it up.
Response and Settlement Offer
The at-fault party, through its attorney and/or insurance representative, then responds to the demand. A response will typically state whether the party accepts or rejects the demand, and will explain the basis for any disagreement. The response may also contain an initial settlement offer if the demand was made informally (rather than in a court filing). A response usually comes within a few weeks of receipt of a demand.
Once the parties have staked out their starting positions, their respective lawyers and insurance representatives usually enter into settlement negotiations. This is the most variable phase of the process regarding when and how negotiations occur. It is difficult to predict how long it might last.
Car accident settlement negotiations may take place through correspondence or in person. They may begin immediately after the initial exchange of the demand and response, or the parties may delay until they have gathered additional evidence and information to help them evaluate their positions. The lawyers and representatives may negotiate directly or with the assistance of a neutral mediator. And negotiations may occur before or after the filing of a formal lawsuit.
Throughout this process, the lawyers for both sides must report back to their clients on the progress of negotiations. They must tell their clients about any offers made by the other party and advise them on whether to accept or reject them.
Importantly, lawyers do not get to decide whether to agree to a settlement offer. Only the clients have the authority to make that decision.
Settlement Agreement and Payment
If the parties reach an agreement on a settlement, the lawyers formalize it in writing (in consultation with their clients), and their clients sign it. Drafting a settlement agreement usually happens within days of the parties agreeing on its basic provisions.
Once signed, the settlement agreement is a binding contract, and the parties must comply with its terms. This usually means payment of a settlement amount to the victim, delivery of a formal release to the at-fault party and its insurer, and (if necessary) formal termination of any pending lawsuit.
Typically, payment of settlement money accompanies or follows immediately after signing a settlement agreement in a car accident case. That money goes into the trust account of the lawyer representing the car accident victim. The lawyer deducts any fee from that amount and pays the remainder to the victim. This process usually takes only a week or two, if not less.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer Today
Did you or a loved one suffer injuries in a car accident? Do you have questions about the potential settlement of your car accident claim? If so, contact a car accident lawyer in your area today for a free consultation about your rights and options.