How Long Does the Car Accident Settlement Process Take?

A car accident lawyer sits at his desk calculating a settlement.

Multiple factors affect the length of time a car accident settlement takes, including:

  • Your damages. If you only had minor injuries and car repairs, the settlement process will probably move faster than if you had severe injuries, a totaled car, etc.
  • How difficult it is to prove fault. In some cases, the evidence is relatively straightforward, and we don’t need to spend a long time proving the other driver was at fault to their insurance company. Other cases are more complex and may require us to gather and explain evidence to the insurance adjuster. In many car accidents, both drivers have made mistakes, and it could take time to show that the other party was mostly at fault and you had relatively little responsibility.
  • The response time of the insurance company. Often we communicate with the insurance company on your behalf, explaining your damages and how much you’re requesting for them. The insurance company will eventually respond by asking for clarification or documentation, refusing the request, or making an offer. But in the interim, sometimes days, weeks, or even months might pass. We follow up with the insurer when necessary, but even then, sometimes they still take their time.
  • The schedule of the local court. The majority of car accident cases are ultimately settled out of court. However, we sometimes begin by filing a lawsuit. We then file motions, request evidence for discovery, etc. During this process, we will continue negotiations with the other party or their insurance company, but in the meantime, we may have to schedule hearings, argue motions, and complete other processes that involve the court. Because the court oversees many cases, sometimes we wait weeks or months for a hearing date.

As you can see from the list above, it’s hard to give a specific answer about how long the settlement process takes because the length can be highly variable. Some cases may be resolved in a few months, while others could take two years or longer. We can give you a more accurate estimate once we know more about the particulars of your case.

How Are Damages Determined in a Car Accident?

Your car accident attorney will go over potential damages with you. This part of the process is very important because many people have more damages than they realize. If the insurance company undervalues your claim, it’s essential to know what it’s actually worth so you can pursue a fair amount.

Possible damages include the following:

  • Medical bills. Don’t forget about future bills if you are still in treatment, in addition to any bills you have currently. Some people also have related expenses like travel costs to see a specialist, mobility aids, or equipment to help with at-home physical therapy exercises.
  • Lost income. Did you have to take time off work because of your car accident injuries? Even if you had paid time off, you could still seek compensation for this lost income. Additionally, if you suffered a permanent injury or disability and are no longer able to work at all or to do the same job at the same pace, you might pursue damages for lost earning potential.
  • Property damage. You will want your car repair costs covered, and under Colorado law, you might also seek compensation for your car’s diminished value.
  • Pain and suffering. Unlike some of the other damages, this is non-economic damage – it doesn’t come with a bill for a specific amount of money, like a hospital bill. Nevertheless, your physical and emotional pain and suffering are actual damages, and your attorney will help you arrive at a reasonable amount of compensation for them.
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement. Whether or not it affects your ability to earn income, you should also be compensated for any permanent injury that causes disability or disfigurement.
  • Wrongful death. If the car accident led to the death of a loved one, you might be able to file a wrongful death suit if you are the deceased’s spouse, heir, or parent. Possible damages would include funeral and burial expenses, medical bills related to the death, loss of consortium or companionship, and financial support if the deceased was the primary earner for the family.

How Hard Will It Be to Prove Fault in My Case?

It’s impossible to say without knowing the details of your specific case, but your lawyer can advise you of any potential difficulties and possible remedies. However, we can tell you about some common issues that occur with regard to fault.

Frequently, new clients come to us because the other driver’s car insurance company denied their claim. One of the most common reasons is that the claimant was at fault, not the policyholder. Some people tell us they were sure the other driver was at fault, but now they’re starting to wonder if that’s true!

Understanding Modified Comparative Negligence

Claiming the policyholder wasn’t at fault is often an easy way for insurance companies to save money. First, they don’t have to prove you were totally at fault. As long as they can make a case that you had some responsibility, they can reduce the amount they owe you under Colorado’s modified comparative negligence statutes. These allow for two parties to share fault in an accident or injury situation like a car crash. The party with more than 50 percent responsibility is expected to pay damages to the party with less than 50 percent fault.

But the party with less fault will lose whatever percentage of responsibility they had from the final award. So if your damages were $12,000 and you were 15 percent at fault, you would only receive $10,200, and the insurance company would save $1,800. But if the insurance company offered a compelling case that you were 55 percent at fault, you wouldn’t receive anything and could be expected to pay damages to the other party.

Can the Insurance Company Make a Strong Case That I’m At Fault If I’m Not?

Again, it depends on the specific situation, but sometimes it may be possible. However, in many cases, the insurance company doesn’t have a strong case. They’re hoping you’ll accept the denial without question – some people do. If not, they hope to prove you were at least 10 or 20 percent at fault to reduce what they owe.

On your own, it’s hard to know what evidence the insurance company has or how they’re interpreting it. The best thing you can do to protect your right to compensation is to contact a Colorado car accident lawyer as soon as you can after the crash. Our investigative team will search for evidence of the other driver’s responsibility. This includes canvassing the scene, talking to witnesses, searching for doorbell or security cameras that may have captured the crash, seeking access to vehicle black box data, and more. We’ll also ask the insurance company for a detailed explanation of why they believe you were at fault and work to refute their claims.

How to Know If My Lawyer Is Dragging Out My Case?

This is unlikely because dragging out your case usually doesn’t benefit your lawyer. In contrast to other types of attorneys, personal injury lawyers don’t charge a retainer or bill you by the hour. Instead, we take an agreed-upon percentage from the final settlement. This fee structure is because accident victims often struggle with medical bills, property damage, and lost wages from missing work. If they had to pay for an attorney upfront, many injured people might not have access to legal representation. So, we use a fee structure where the client doesn’t have to pay anything until they receive their settlement.

As a result, we don’t get paid until we do our jobs, so there is no benefit to “dragging out” your case. However, we do want you to get the settlement you deserve, so we don’t rush through the essential steps, either. Instead, we aim to be thorough but efficient.

While there is rarely a reason for your lawyer to intentionally drag out your case, they may have become busy with personal issues or an excessively heavy caseload and simply can’t give your case the attention it deserves. When this happens, your attorney is responsible for letting you know and referring you to another lawyer who can help you. If they don’t, you may want to get a second opinion from another attorney on your own.

How can you tell the difference? If your lawyer responds to most of your calls or emails in a reasonable time frame, can explain where they are on your case, and provides updates, they’re probably doing what they’re supposed to. On the other hand, if your lawyer can’t be bothered to return calls or emails or seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, it may be time to speak with another lawyer.

Need Help with Your Car Accident Case?

The Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™ is always available for a free consultation about your car accident case.  Attorney Sean Olson established the firm in 2011 and has been fighting to get clients the compensation they deserve ever since. He’ll personally meet with you to learn your story, answer your questions, and explain your options. Call us today at 720-410-6188.