Car accident injury victims almost always ask two questions–”How much is my claim worth?” and “How long will it take for me to get the money?” This article examines the second of these two questions on the assumption that the claim resolves at the settlement table rather than at trial.
Florida’s No-Fault Auto Insurance System
Florida is one of a minority of states that applies a “no-fault” auto insurance system to car accidents. It is also one of only two states that do not require its drivers to purchase auto liability insurance. This state of affairs greatly complicates car accident claims that produce serious injuries.
Under the no-fault system, you cannot sue the at-fault driver unless your injuries are “serious” as defined by Florida law. Instead, you must file a claim against your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. Damages are very limited compared with the damages you can claim by filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Meanwhile, even if your injuries are “serious”, the at-fault party might not even carry liability insurance.
Factors That Influence the Progress of a Car Accident Claim
Following is a description of several factors upon which the prompt resolution of your car accident claim might depend.
Reaching Maximum Medical Improvement
You reach Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) when your doctor certifies that you have recovered as much as you ever will. This may or may not mean a full recovery. You need to reach MMI so that you can accurately calculate your medical expenses and lost income. Some people reach MMI immediately, while others take months or even years to reach MMI.
Some injuries result in continuing medical needs and permanent occupational disability. When this happens, you need to calculate your medical expenses and lost earnings in the future. The younger you are and the more serious your impairment, the more these future damages are likely to accumulate.
You might need expert testimony to calculate your future damages. Don’t skimp on this, because if you underestimate the amount you need, you could run out of money years from now. It could take time for an expert to calculate your future damages.
Putting Together the Demand Package
A demand package includes a demand letter to the insurance company or the defendant explaining your claim and demanding payment. It also includes documentary evidence supporting your compensation claim.
Two important components of this evidence are your medical records and documentation of your lost wages. The insurance company will need up to 60 days to evaluate your claim and issue a settlement offer.
The Bargaining Process
The bargaining process begins when the insurance company issues a settlement offer in response to your demand package. A time-honored rule of thumb is to reject the first offer, because it will almost certainly be inadequate. After you reject the first offer, expect a back-and-forth process of offer and counteroffer of uncertain duration.
Filing a Lawsuit
You don’t have to go to trial just because you filed a lawsuit—you can settle out of court and withdraw your lawsuit. Although very few car accident claims go to trial, a great many accident victims file lawsuits with the ultimate motivation of expediting the settlement process. The primary purpose of filing a lawsuit is usually to gain access to the pretrial discovery process.
Pretrial discovery offers you the opportunity to cross-examine the opposing party’s witnesses, submit written questions, and demand access to physical evidence. All responses are under oath, and the court can impose sanctions if either side refuses to honor the other side’s discovery requests. The discovery of new evidence through the discovery process takes months, sometimes up to a year. However, it often uncovers game-changing evidence.
Drafting a Settlement Agreement
Drafting the settlement agreement shouldn’t take long. Nevertheless, don’t take any shortcuts, and never, ever use a “Settlement Agreement” template you find on the Internet. Instead, have your lawyer draft the agreement.
Issuing the Settlement Check
Even after both parties sign the settlement agreement, you might need to wait another couple of weeks to receive your money. The process works something like this:
- The insurance company signs the settlement check and sends it to your attorney.
- Your attorney deposits the check to their client’s escrow account.
- Your lawyer deducts any applicable amounts, including their contingency fee, case expenses, and any other deductions, such as payment of a medical lien.
- Your attorney writes you a check for the amount left over after deductions.
- Your lawyer sends you the check via bank-to-bank transfer. The money is now yours.
If the opposing party unreasonably delays payment, you can sue them for breach of contract.
Potential Obstacles to Prompt Claim Resolution
Following is a list of some of the most commonly encountered obstacles to settlement.
Stubborn Defendants and Insurance Companies
Some people and companies are just stubborn by nature. If you run into one of these, you might try a couple of different strategies–(i) mediation and (ii) threatening to file an insurance bad faith lawsuit (if the opposing party is an insurance company and their conduct has been outrageous).
If you were partly at fault for the accident, your claim might bog down in arguing how much liability each party bears. In Florida, you lose personal injury compensation in proportion to your percentage of fault. Even if the accident was only 1% at fault, you could still lose 1% of your compensation.
The more complex your case is, the long it will take to resolve. Your case is probably complex if:
- You need to hire an accident reconstruction specialist to establish liability;
- The at-fault driver was driving a commercial truck; or
- You were involved in a multi-vehicle pileup case with more than one plaintiff and more than one defendant.
Many other circumstances can tip you off that your case is too complex to resolve quickly.
If the defendant is poverty-stricken and uninsured, they might be judgment-proof. This means that if you want compensation, you will have to find a second defendant. This situation could complicate your case.
High Noneconomic Damages Claim
If you are claiming a large amount of compensation for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering, expect stiff resistance from the opposing party. You will probably need to file a lawsuit to stimulate a fair settlement offer.
Let a Lawyer Guide You Through the Process
A simple fender-bender might not require the assistance of a personal injury lawyer. Any injury that is serious enough to justify a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, however, almost certainly requires the services of a lawyer. A skilled lawyer can increase the amount of your settlement by far more than the amount you will need to deduct in legal fees. Contact our law offices in St Petersburg to hire an attorney at Lopez Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers for a free consultation, call us at (727) 933-0015.