There is no simple answer to this question. It depends on whether the car wreck is disputed or undisputed. Let’s discuss the factors that must be considered under each scenario.
Factors that should be considered in assessing a settlement timeline include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. What are the liability issues?
2. Type and length of medical treatment.
3. Whether the injuries were actually caused by the motor vehicle accident.
4. Whether you have any pre-existing conditions that may impact your claimed injuries.
5. Quality of medical treatment.
6. Which insurance company insured the at-fault driver.
7. How experienced is your attorney?
Each one of these factors deserve a more in-depth explanation.
A rear-end collision is easier to resolve than an illegal lane change or a red light/green light crash. In a lane change or red light/green light incident, the facts are likely in dispute. Witnesses must be located, interviewed or even deposed in order to seek out the truth. This may take a great deal of time to sort out and resolve. Your settlement timeline can be affected by the leg work and manpower hours it takes to sort out the truth.
TYPE AND LENGTH OF MEDICAL TREATEMENT
Insurance companies evaluate a claim and assign it a value based on the type of medical treatment received by an injured person. The seriousness of the injuries will dictate the type of care. Usually, less serious injuries are treated by general practitioners or chiropractors. When these types of healthcare providers treat claimants, their cases tend to resolve quicker than injures treated by higher level care providers such as orthopedists, neurologists or neurosurgeons.
The length of treatment clearly has an effect on the settlement timeline. If an individual is treated for 3 months by a chiropractor, the case should resolve within a couple of weeks or months following the patient’s discharge.
When a claimant is involved in a low-impact collision, insurance companies usually defend by claiming the injury could not have possibly been caused by such a minor impact. Some insurance companies will never settle a low-impact accident; others may settle, but they will assign a value to the case for settlement purposes.
The insurance company will oftentimes hire a doctor who will offer an opinion that the claimed injury could not be the result of the car accident. Your treating physician will of course, disagree. This dispute between healthcare providers will delay the resolution of the claim. It may require a protracted discovery or even a trial. The case can still settle, but it will do so at a reduced value. These factors can have an effect on the settlement timeline.
PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS MAY IMPACT MEDICAL CAUSATION AND THE SETTLEMENT TIMELINE
If the claimant has a longstanding history of lower back complaints well before the car wreck and re-injures the lower back in the instant collision, the insurance company will assign a value to the aggravation of the pre-existing condition at the lower amount than a clean uninjured back. Where the aggravation requires lengthy and specialized treatment, the settlement timeline will be prolonged. Sometimes, an insurance company will not even extend a settlement offer where there are pre-existing medical conditions. When this occurs, your case is destined for trial where a judge or jury will determine the outcome.
QUALITY OF MEDICAL TREATMENT
Chiropractic and primary care healthcare providers give the initial care, which usually lasts up to 6 months. Once you get discharged from their care, then it will take 2 to 3 months to settle your case.
On the other hand, if you treat with a specialist the length of treatment is generally longer. Most specialists will also order a variety of diagnostic tests that will inevitably prolong treatment and your settlement timeline. However, the value of your case typically will be enhanced by this higher level of healthcare. So, expect to wait longer for a settlement when your case has been rendered by a specialist.
WHICH INSURANCE COMPANY INSURES THE AT-FAULT DRIVER
Among legal professionals, there are insurance companies that are known to low ball the value of your injury case. Some of these companies will throw every obstacle in your way in order to frustrate you and/or make your recovery as unpleasant as possible. Most experienced lawyers are acutely aware of which carriers are the difficult ones to work with to resolve claims. Just ask and your attorney will share what information he has on the list of uncooperative carriers.
HOW EXPERIENCED IS YOUR ATTORNEY
Insurance companies keep scoreboards on the attorneys that handle injury cases. They know which ones get the big judgments because of their hard work and their ability to enhance the value of their client’s cases. Adjusters know which attorneys will settle cheap and which ones drive the hard bargain. Quality lawyers get better settlement offers than unexperienced ones or the ones who lack the knowledge of building a good, solid and valuable case. Your settlement timeline could be affected by the lawyer who you choose. Ask questions before you select a lawyer to represent you.
Usually when a claim is disputed by an insurance company, it involves such issues as lability, coverage and/or medical causation.
Under the Undisputed Claim section above, we set forth what types of situations give rise to disputed liability issues, and the work that is generally required to resolve those disagreements. The gathering of eyewitnesses’ names, addresses and their written and signed eyewitness accounts of what happened is beneficial. Sometimes, photographs of the scene and property damage may be helpful in resolving liability disputes. When these efforts fail and if the case is valuable enough, your attorney will hire an accident reconstruction engineer to help discover the factual differences as to how the collision occurred. This type of expert can put to rest any disputes regarding speed and fault. If your attorney must go down that road, it can be more expensive and will affect your settlement timeline.
What is the meaning of an insurance coverage issue? It means that the insurance carrier is alleging that the policy issued to the at-fault driver does not provide coverage as per the language of the policy itself. One must understand that all policy language is not the same in all insurance policies. Definitions of a “covered loss”, “who is an insured” etc., vary from company to company. When an insurance company raises such a defense, it may well require legal research, analysis and the use of a court hearing where the attorneys for both sides (yours and the insurance company) make legal arguments as to whether the policy language includes the type of factual basis alleged in the Petition for Damages. This proceeding is called a M.S.J. If the insurance company lawyers win, it would end the litigation. But, you would have an option to ask for a higher court review to review the trial court’s decision. This process is merely preliminary as the actual trial of your case may be years away. If you win, the insurance company can ask a higher court to review under the same circumstances.
Once this motion is behind you, traditional discovery continues. This includes interrogatories, depositions and other court hearings that flow out of disagreements between counsel.
Once all discovery is completed, a trial date is selected with other scheduling deadlines such as filing of specialty motions, jury interrogatories and jury charges.
As you know, court dockets are crowded and without exception, there will be several cases set for trial on the same day. Only one trial gets to proceed at a time. So, expect that your trial date will be continued to another date in the future with other cases on the docket for the same date. This process will move forward in the same manner until your case is first up. Generally, the case that is selected to be heard by the Judge is the case that has been on the trial docket the longest. Be prepared to wait.
As we outlined above in the section entitled “whether the injury was actually caused by the car wreck”, medical causation is usually raised when the wreck is either low-impact or the claimant suffers from pre-existing medical conditions. Once these types of disagreements are alleged by the insurance carrier, you can count on your settlement timeline to we decimated! Truth is – you are left with no real timeline at all.
I hope this discussion of settlement timeline has been informative and given you some guidance as to how personal injury cases are analyzed and handled by accident lawyers. If you or a loved one is involved in an automobile accident, please PHONE CARDONE AT 504-522-3333 OR 1-888-89- CARDONE and ask for a free consultation.