Everybody wants to know how long their case is going to take to settle. I’d say the average is about a year, it depends on so many things:
- Insurance Coverage
- Length of Treatment
- Policies of the Insurance Company
- Quality of Medical Reports
- Seriousness of Injuries
- Type of Case
The minimum policy limits for automobile liability insurance coverage in New York are 25/50. This means that the most that can be paid out is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident. So if you were seriously injured, the only person injured in the accident and it was clearly the fault of the other car, your case can be settled very quickly. The insurance company will likely “tender” their policy to you, which means that they will pay out their entire policy. Under the circumstances, it would be “bad faith” if they did not. Unfortunately, although your case is settled quickly, you will not be able to get very much money.
Let’s say you had the same serious injuries and good liability, but the other vehicle was a truck with $1,000,000 in coverage. Here’s where you don’t want to rush. Sure, you COULD settle this case quickly, but that wouldn’t be the best way to handle it. With only $25,000 to collect, the case can be settled before you are even finished with treatment, but with more money to collect, it wouldn’t make sense to even try to settle the case before treatment is complete, as medical treatment is “damages” that increase the value of your case. Here’s where we want to hold out for a good settlement and litigate if one is not offered. This is going to make the case take much longer, but it’s well worth it.
LENGTH OF TREATMENT
More serious injuries usually mean lengthier treatment. Client’s sometimes ask why their case is not settled when they are actively getting medical treatment or they are still unable to work. It’s not possible to know the value of the case until treatment is complete, and trying to settle a case at that point would be selling it short. For example, if injuries cause you to be out of work for a year and half, your case can’t be settled for at least a year and a half (assuming there is ample insurance coverage.) On the other hand, a case with minor injuries that requires little treatment can be settled sooner, but will not yield as high a settlement. The important thing to ask an attorney is the reason why the case is taking whatever time it’s taking – you should be sure it’s not just sitting in the file cabinet because they are too busy with other cases.
POLICIES OF THE INSURANCE COMPANY
Some insurance companies have a policy of wanting to make fair settlements quickly. They have a team of claims representatives that follow up on their caseloads and answer calls from attorneys. You can send them a medical package which they will review in a timely manner and then they will make an offer in a reasonable amount of time. If the offer is not acceptable, a lawsuit can be commenced. There actually are companies this good – one of the best has some funny animal commercials.
Other insurance companies don’t want to settle cases. They have few claims reps and they don’t bother to return calls. They ask for 60 days to review medical records. They make lousy offers to settle cases. Attorneys know which companies these are and know that lengthy litigation is going to be necessary. Some attorneys won’t even accept cases if they know they are with certain insurance companies! If you case takes a long time because it’s with against an insurance company that doesn’t actively settle cases, it’s not your attorney’s fault. It doesn’t matter is your Aunt Jean got a lot of money really quickly with a case against a “good” insurance company.
If you have a police report that shows says you were hit in the rear by a drunk driver that was texting, there will likely be no dispute about liability. This speeds up the case as the only discussion is damages. On the other hand, if the other guy went through a light, but is claiming that you went through the light, it might be necessary to litigate the case through depositions before being able to settle it. This is frustrating when you saw the other guy go through the light, but that’s what courts and judges are for. Depositions cannot be held until both sides have exchanged documents and after several conferences in court. This case is not going to be quick to get full value.
QUALITY OF THE MEDICAL REPORTS
If you treat with high quality medical providers that are knowledgeable about how to produce reports for accident cases this is helpful for a faster settlement. Medical reports that are scribbled and not comprehensive give claims adjusters little to “hang their hats” on when asking for “authority” to put money on your claim. That’s when an insurance company may want extensive litigation if you are looking for a large settlement. They will want to hear your testify in a deposition and send you to their doctors for an examination. Good quality medical reports will speed up a settlement.
SERIOUSNESS OF INJURIES
Assuming there is coverage, it will take time to build up to an excellent settlement amount on a serious case. This is the type of case where lengthy litigation can improve the final settlement. You want the insurance company to know that you are willing to go to trial if they don’t come up with enough money. Even though most cases are eventually settled, with very serious injuries you want to prepare the case for trial, even settle on the eve of trial. This can take years, but it’s worth it.
TYPE OF CASE
Auto accident cases have a “serious injury threshold” that must be met. With smaller cases, it’s important that there is at least enough treatment to meet this threshold, which often means treatment for a minimum of three months. Other types of cases do not have this threshold. For example, if you fall in a supermarket and go to the doctor and have a sprained ankle that heals quickly, your case might be settled very quickly. A food poisoning case could be quick because there is little treatment once the problem subsides. Product liability and malpractice cases will always take a long time as experts must be hired and complicated investigations must be carried out.
The insurance company denies payment for your surgery as not “medically necessary,” and the doctor arbitrates this denial. It can take over a year to get a decision. It is prudent to wait for the decision as the surgery is an important part of the damages in your case and having an arbitration decision that it was indeed medically necessary is important for your case.
The insurance company transfers your claim to a new claims rep who must now review your entire file from scratch. This can add months to the time it takes to settle the case. The insurance adjuster goes on an extended vacation or family leave and there is nobody to discuss your claim. Of course, the litigation can continue, but the case cannot be settled unless there is a claims rep to discuss it with.
There are many reasons why cases take the time they do to settle. The most important thing to remember is that it is your attorney’s job to explain why YOUR case is taking the time it’s taking. If you are in the dark, you don’t have the right attorney.