How Long Will It Take To Settle My Personal Injury Claim?

Nelson Abbott, a respected Utah personal injury attorney, explains in this video how long it takes to settle a personal injury claim.

Following is a written transcript of the video.

So how long should it take to settle in an automobile or a personal injury claim? Let me just start out by saying that really depends on what kind of settlement you want. Insurance companies will typically make a low-ball offer within a matter of weeks or months of the time of an accident, and if you want to take that type of offer, you can get it done quickly. You can have a settlement in a matter of weeks.

But most of my clients don’t want that type of settlement, and so usually what I deal with are people who want a good or even the best settlements possible. So let me explain to you what’s involved in getting that type of settlement.

First of all, in order to get a good settlement, the insurance company is going to want to review all the medical records and medical bills. They’re going to want to determine what your injury was, whether you have any residual problems from it, and what medical treatments you might need in the future.

So, in order to assess that, they’re going to obviously want or require that you reach maximum medical improvement. That way they know what complications will not resolve through medical care or treatment, and they’ll know or at least have an idea of what is to be expected in the future. So it can take months, or sometimes, rarely years to reach maximum medical improvement. But in most cases it’s reached in a matter of months.

Once that’s reached, we’ve got to obtain all of the medical records from the providers, bills from providers, sometimes employment records, this type of stuff, and that can take usually a month or two after you’ve reached maximum medical improvement. We submit it to the insurance company, and they’ll usually want maybe 30 days in order to evaluate the claim, maybe take it to a panel within the insurance company and round-table it.

Then they’ll take a couple weeks to negotiate the claim, and then another couple weeks to get all of the checks cut and delivered, and settlement papers done, that kind of stuff. So it can be as fast, I would say, as maybe a couple months after reaching maximum medical improvements. In order to get a good settlement, sometimes it takes longer if there are complications.

But that usually goes pretty quickly. It could take up to four months, just depending whether we’re able to get doctors to give us records in a timely manner and this kind of thing. One of the things that you can do as a client to speed that up is to go to the doctors and get medical records and bills, and that type of stuff, because they generally respond to their own patients faster than they respond to attorneys.

Now, that being said, that you can get a good settlement then, within a couple months usually of reaching maximum medical improvement. Now how long does it take to get the best settlement? That usually takes, oh, I would estimate a year or two after reaching maximum medical improvement. Now, let me explain why that is.

To get a best settlement, you have to use all of the negotiating strategies available to you. So it’s not just a matter of making a good pitch to the insurance company or buttering up the adjustor, whatever some attorneys might say they can do in order to get good settlements. One of the negotiating strategies, and probably the most powerful negotiating strategy is the walkaway.

I’ll put a link on this page to a different video talking about the walkaway so I won’t spend much time on that here. But basically, the idea of a walkaway is, “We’re not willing to take your offer. We’re walking away from this and we’re taking this matter to trial.” So what happens is, the insurance company, the last thing they want to do is go to trial. So they don’t usually capitulate quickly, but they’ll capitulate later on and have substantially raised their settlement.

Let me give you two real life examples. The first one is a little bit extreme, but it’s absolutely real. It really did happen. So the first example, automobile accident in June of 2009. The insurance company makes their good offer, the best offer that they’re willing to make prior to trial in May of 2010. That offer was $5,000. The clients says, “I’m patient. I’m willing to do the walkaway.”

So we file suit. We go through the discovery phase and we’re getting ready for trial. Trial is scheduled in January 2012, so the insurance company comes to us in December of 2011 and offers $250,000 to settle the claim. Not bad, huh? It goes from $5,000 to $250,000. Client made 1,700% interest on an annualized basis by doing that, increased the settlement by – what, $245,000? Definitely worth waiting, the client was ecstatic when this all came down.

By using that walkaway strategy, we really, I think, did the right thing for the client. It was much better than taking the $5,000, putting it in a bank at 2% and ending up with maybe $150 in interest at the end of that time. So, you can see in a case like that it took just over two years. It took two and a half years to get the best settlement possible.

Here’s another example. Client involved in an automobile accident in July of 2010, about 15 months later, November of 2011, the insurance company makes the best offer. Why did it take 15 months? Well, the client had to treat, reach maximum medical improvement. This was a claim against a government entity, so there were a few extra hoops we had to jump through in order to make that claim.

But anyways, claim goes to governmental entity and they make their good offer of $15,000. Client is prepared to engage in a walkaway negotiating strategy so we file suit. We begin the litigation process. This time the insurance company was not willing to wait to get quite as close to trial, and so they really got serious about negotiating. In May of 2012, so six months after filing the lawsuit, we settled that case for $62,500.

So the client – what, quadrupled their money by doing it? Again, on an annualized return, about 1,700%. Now these are two real examples. Obviously we can’t guarantee results. We can’t say the walkaway always works exactly like that. But in my experience if you’re willing to engage in the walkaway negotiating strategy, it does add time to settling your claim, but the increase in your settlement will be so much that it is much better than taking the early settlement, putting the money in the bank, and earning whatever you can earn on that.

So, I guess to summarize, a settlement can take anywhere from two weeks up to a couple years. What you really need to do is when you talk to your attorney, you need to let your attorney know, “I either want a quick settlement, I want a medium-length settlement, or I really want the best settlement I can get.”

Now you may not know that in the beginning. It can change. But you just need to remember that as the client you are the employer. You are the boss, and so your attorney needs to work for you. It does bring me to one issue, and that is when you’re hiring an attorney, if you really want to get at the best settlement possible, one of the questions to ask is, “Are you willing to take my case to trial if need be?”

There are attorneys out there who, for whatever reason, financial or they don’t have the guts, or I don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason, they’re not willing to take cases to trial. They will advertise that they can get quick settlements, this type of thing. That’s great, but they’re not going to get best settlements.

So one of the interviewing things I suggest you do with an attorney is to ask them, “Are you willing to take the quick settlement if that’s my choice?” Number one, because you are the boss. So find out if that attorney is going to follow your instructions and, “Are you willing to take it to trial if that’s what I want? Have you taken personal injury cases to jury trials in the past?”

You need an attorney that’s willing to do both of those things. If they’re not, then keep looking. So I hope this answers your question. If you have any other questions feel free to contact us. Thank you.