How Long Does It Take For A Car Crash Claim To Settle?
Most car crash claims do settle before trial, but it may take months or even years for the claim to conclude, depending on many factors including whether liability (fault) is disputed and the nature and extent of the injuries you’ve sustained. If you have brought a claim for injuries from a car crash, you are no doubt concerned how long it will take before you are able to receive compensation for those injuries.
In order to get to the point where a settlement is possible, your attorney must follow many steps to get the claim ripe for consideration by the insurance company for the negligent party who caused your injuries. Your medical records must be obtained and provided to the insurance adjuster. Your lawyer should advance the costs of getting your records, but those amounts will ultimately be paid back by you, at the conclusion of your case, as an administrative cost of the file. As the records are received from your medical providers, your attorney should be sending those records immediately to the insurance adjuster so that the company is fully apprised of the nature and extent of your injuries. Insurance companies set up reserves of funds to match the seriousness of the claim, so that as the claim becomes documented as more severe, the company sets aside more money that will ultimately go towards the settlement offer.
Once all your records are obtained, your attorney will send a demand letter to the insurance adjuster. The demand letter is your attorney’s opportunity to present a complete picture of your claim and request an amount to settle the claim. Similar to any negotiation, the demand should be higher than what the actual value of the claim is, in order to leave room for negotiation. In response to your demand, if the insurance company counters with a minimal offer, otherwise known as a “nuisance value” offer, the best course of action would then be to file the superior court complaint and place the claim into litigation. If, on the other hand, your demand is met with a respectable counter offer, it is then in your best interest for your lawyer to provide a counter demand in order to try to get to a settlement amount close to or at the true value of your claim.
Some questions arise…
How does my lawyer figure out what my claim is worth? Your lawyer’s experience is a key factor in determining your claim’s value. While this is likely your first time having experienced the injuries you now suffer, the lawyer you choose should have decades of experience in handling claims just like yours. The prior settlements and jury verdicts your lawyer has obtained serve as precedent and can be used by the lawyer as negotiation points with the insurance adjuster. Also, your lawyer should pay for a service known as jury verdict review and analysis which provides a wealth of information on the settlement and jury verdict values on claims of injury just like yours.
In New Jersey, you have 2 years to file a complaint in the superior court. If one day passes beyond the 2 year statute of limitations, and a complaint has not been filed, your rights to pursue your claim are forever lost. Up until the complaint is filed, you have claim for injury. Once the insurance company makes that nuisance offer, and your lawyer then files the complaint, now you are in litigation, your rights to pursue the matter are forever preserved, and the lengthy process of litigation then begins. The insurance company lawyer now will take over the defense of the claim and the process begins. Keep in mind that the defense lawyer has no incentive to get your claim resolved quickly as she only gets paid if she works on the file. If she settles the claim in short order, there is no more file for her to work on and she cannot bill her client, the insurance company.
For the typical car crash claim, the court allows about 10 months for the discovery process to unfold. That time period can be extended, on request to the court by either party, if there is still more discovery, or fact finding, to be done. Initially, written questions, known as interrogatories, are exchanged between the parties. These questions are designed to find out the specifics of your claim or the defenses of the negligent party. After that, depositions (oral sworn recorded testimony) can be taken by either party in order to further fact find about the merits of the claim or defenses at issue. Once discovery is complete, the court requires that both sides appear in court for arbitration, a mandatory, non-binding hearing conducted by two court appointed lawyers designed to point out the strengths or weaknesses of each party’s claim or defense. The arbitration will result in an award to the plaintiff (the person bringing the claim) or a finding of no-cause for action in favor of the defendant (the person being sued). If either side does not like the result of the arbitration, the result can be appealed with what is called a “trial de novo” and the case is then listed for trial. Even though most arbitration results are appealed, the majority of claims that do settle thereafter, and before trial, settle close to the arbitration award amount.
Once your claim is in litigation, it’s likely to be at least a year or two before the time comes for the insurance company to consider making an offer to settle. if no reasonable offer is forthcoming, trial will decide the case.
It’s a long road. Your patience and the expertise of your lawyer are the best tools you can have to ensure you receive every dollar you deserve for your injuries.