If you've been injured in an accident that was someone else's fault, you'll want to be reimbursed for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. That's only fair. But how long will it take?
It's not possible to say exactly how long it will take to settle your personal injury claim because every case is different. Some can be settled within 3-4 months. Others take years.
The time it takes to settle your case will depend on how long it takes for you to complete medical treatment, how the insurance company deals with your case, and whether you want to settle fast for less money or hold out for a fair settlement.
Getting Medical Treatment
The first and most important thing to do following an accident is to get medical treatment for your injuries. Remember that some injuries get worse in the days and weeks after an accident. At the time of the accident, it may not be apparent how badly injured you are. So you should always see a medical professional immediately if you think you are injured at all.
The documentation from a medical professional will be needed as proof when you try to get reimbursed from the insurance company.
Even though your injuries weren't your fault, you still have an obligation to take actions to get better and reduce the consequences of the injury. This is called “mitigation of damages”. It means that you can't recover damages that you could have avoided by taking reasonable actions.
If you ignore medical advice, delay getting treatment, or fail to seek new employment (if necessary) following your accident, that could reduce the damages you're eligible to recover. That's all the more reason to get treatment early and follow through on everything you're supposed to do to get better, physically and financially.
Reaching Maximum Medical Improvement
The insurance company will want you to reach what's called maximum medical improvement (MMI) before they even think about settling your claim. MMI is when an injured person “reaches a state where his or her condition cannot be improved any further or when a treatment plateau in a person’s healing process is reached.”
You have to reach maximum medical improvement because settling any earlier would mean settling with unknown costs. Once you've reached MMI, it will be known what costs have been incurred to that point and what your treatment plan for the future is. How long it takes you to reach MMI will depend on the severity of your injuries, but most people reach it in a matter of months.
After you've reached maximum medical improvement, then it's possible to file your claim with the insurance company. You'll need to show documentation of everything related to your case, including the accident report, copies of your medical bills, and proof of lost wages. It will take some time, probably weeks or months, for them to review all of this.
Low Offers and Quick Settlements
After you've filed a claim with the insurance company, and they've had time to review it, now it's possible for them to make you an offer.
But don't expect to be thrilled about the first offer you receive. Insurance companies have been known to offer extremely low settlements to claimants to see if they will accept. They've got nothing to lose. If you take it, then they settled for a fraction of what they otherwise could have. If not, then the process continues.
If you just want something as soon as possible, then you could take an early offer that's way too low. But who wants to settle for less than what they deserve? It would be better to keep trying for something fair.
Getting An Attorney (and The Best Settlement)
Your best bet to get a fair settlement in a reasonable amount of time is to work with a qualified professional, such as a personal injury attorney, who can advise you on what your claim is worth and negotiate with the insurance company to get it.
Personal injury attorneys don't cost you anything out of pocket. They are paid a percentage of the settlement money they get for you, which saves you cash and gives them a reason to fight for the best settlement for you. So, there's no reason not to hire a personal injury attorney if you need one.
Once you have agreed to a settlement with the insurance company, it will likely be a couple weeks before you actually receive your money.
Don't accept less just to get something sooner, and don't go it alone unless you're an expert on personal injury claims. Your settlement money may not come as soon as you'd like, but if you do the right things, you can maximize the chances of getting a fair recovery.