Car Accident Settlement Timeline
There is no such thing as a definitive car accident settlement timeline; some cases take weeks to resolve, while others take years. Each case must be resolved on its own merits.
Jurisdiction also matters – the fact that Texas is an “at-fault state” strongly affects the timing of events from injury to settlement. Following is a sample timeline that includes all of the major elements.
Table of Contents
Collect Evidence at the Scene of the Accident
Collect evidence at the scene of the accident to the extent that your injuries allow you to:
- Obtain identity and insurance information for all divers;
- Photograph license plates in case of a hit-and-run;
- Photograph all injuries and property damage,
- Photograph skid marks and other relevant evidence;
- Get contact details for any witnesses.
When law enforcement arrives, cooperate with them as they create a police report.
Seek Medical Treatment
Seek medical treatment immediately. This is almost as important for legal reasons as it is for medical reasons. Don’t wait to see if you’re hurt. Instead, seek medical treatment if your body suffered any impact at all.
Some injuries, such as traumatic brain injury, can take time to develop symptoms. If you wait to go to the doctor, the opposing party can always claim that your injury didn’t occur until after the accident.
Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
You reach MMI when your doctor certifies that your medical condition has improved as much as it ever will. This could happen quickly, or it might take years. It might result in a full recovery, or it might result in lifelong disability. It’s usually best to wait until you reach MMI before you file your claim, because only then will you be able to calculate the exact amount of your damages. Before you reach MMI, you won’t have finished accumulating damages yet.
Circumstances might force you to file a claim before you reach MMI. In that case, you will need to hire an expert to help you calculate your anticipated future damages (medical expenses and lost earnings).
Third-Party Insurance Claims
Since Texas is an “at-fault” state for car insurance, you can pursue a claim directly against the driver who is responsible for your collision (or their insurance company). Generally, going through their insurance company is your best course of action, at least initially.
Sending a demand letter is a routine first step in the negotiation process with an insurance company. A demand letter will state your damages and state why the insurance company is responsible for paying them. It will demand compensation, and it may or may not state a specific amount. It will also set a deadline for a reply.
The insurance company, assuming it does not ignore your demand letter, will respond with a reservation of rights letter where it reserves the right to reject your claim if it finds it to be without merit. This is routine.
Next, the insurance company is likely to respond with a wholly inadequate settlement offer. That is your cue to issue a counteroffer. From there, negotiations proceed until (hopefully) you reach a settlement.
Filing a Lawsuit
Sometimes you have to file a lawsuit to bear the statute of limitations deadline. Other times you have to file one just to get the at-fault driver’s attention. In any case, filing a lawsuit will get you access to pretrial discovery (see below), which can be very useful for your case.
Pretrial discovery offers both sides the following three legal tools:
- Interrogatories: written questions that the recipient must answer under oath.
- Depositions: cross-examination of hostile witnesses out of court but under oath;
- Requests for evidence: Request for copies of documents and access to physical evidence.
A court can compel parties to cooperate with each other’s discovery requests. With any luck, discovery will yield enough favorable evidence to tip the scales of justice in your favor and compel the opposing party to settle on your terms.
Back to the Negotiating Table
If the discovery process doesn’t result in settlement, you can continue negotiating even after the court schedules a trial. Sometimes courts won’t schedule a trial until the parties at least try mediation.
In mediation, you bring in a trained third party to help you work out a dispute. The mediator cannot order you around–they can only propose settlement terms that they hope you will like. Mediation is often successful.
The Settlement Agreement
In a personal injury settlement agreement, you agree to forever abandon your claim and, in return, the defendant agrees to pay you the amount of money you’ve both agreed to. Your lawyers may want to talk over the exact wording.
Disbursement of your settlement funds proceeds as follows:
- The insurance company will send the money to your lawyer’s client escrow account. This might take a few weeks of red tape, depending on the size of the insurance company.
- Your lawyer will deduct their contingency fee (typically in the range of 30% to 40% of your total compensation), case expenses, and enough money to satisfy any medical lien or insurance subrogation claims. There may be other applicable expenses as well.
- Your lawyer will transfer the remainder of the funds to you.
Your tax burden should be minimal unless you receive punitive damages. Consult with a tax lawyer if you have any questions, but in any case, your lawyer will not deduct taxes from your settlement funds.
The Sooner You Get Started, the Sooner You’ll Get Paid
There’s no point in delaying the resolution of a car accident claim except to gather the necessary information and organize your claim. By all means, don’t wait until the statute of limitations deadline is looming to contact a lawyer for a free consultation. Get moving on your claim right away, so that the evidence doesn’t grow stale. You can contact our attorneys at Stephens Law Firm, PLLC. Call us at (817) 420-7000.