After a devastating accident, you probably need compensation to pay for medical bills and replace lost wages if you cannot work. Unfortunately, the driver at fault for the accident or his insurance carrier is not anxious to make a fair settlement. How long will it take to receive fair and full compensation for your injuries? The answer is complicated.
You Should Make a Demand for Compensation at the Right Time
There is an important reason not to make your demand too soon—you do not know the full extent of your injuries and the full amount you have spent to treat them. Since you can request full reimbursement of all health care costs, you should typically wait until you have reached maximum medical improvement. This is the point at which you will not get any better with additional medical treatment.
At that point, you will have a good idea of how much money the accident has cost you. You will also better understand if you need ongoing medical treatment, such as an at-home attendant. Depending on your injuries, it could take a year or more to reach maximum medical improvement. With minor injuries, however, the wait might only be a couple of months.
Investigation Could Take Months
Before an insurer will offer to settle your claim, they will want to know who was at fault for the accident. In Colorado, an injured motorist cannot receive compensation in a lawsuit if they were more at fault for the accident than the person they sue. For this reason, an insurer will probably deny any settlement if they find that your own negligence contributed more than 50% to your injuries.
An investigation will likely include the following:
• Talking to everyone involved in the collision
• Possibly investigating the vehicles
• Analyzing the police report
The investigation process can take several months, so obtaining a settlement faster than that is rare unless it is obvious that the other driver is to blame.
You Need to Negotiate Back and Forth
You might kick off the negotiation process by having your lawyer submit a demand letter to the defendant and his insurer. The demand letter will lay out your version of events and explain your injuries. It also makes a demand for compensation.
However, you should not expect the insurance company to quickly agree to your first offer. Instead, they will probably reject it and make a counteroffer, which should be lower. Do not be offended if this counteroffer comes in much lower than what you are initially seeking. Some insurers like to make a lowball counteroffer, which is purely a strategic move.
Your lawyer will then need to counter by sending another demand letter. This one can provide more information about your injuries, such as any pain and suffering or emotional distress. Usually, your lawyer will gradually lower the amount of money requested. Each side might need to go back and forth a few times until you reach an amount that all sides agree to.
Like everything else, every case is different. Some of our clients are able to reach a settlement much faster than other clients.
Filing a Lawsuit
If negotiations break down, then you might need to file a lawsuit to vindicate your right to compensation. Your personal injury lawyer will carefully draft the legal documents that need to be filed in court. This can take several weeks. After filing, your lawyer will need to send a copy of the papers to the defendant, who usually has a month to file a response with the court. In the response, the defendant will respond to your allegations and maybe raise some affirmative defenses.
Every lawsuit has a fact-finding phase called discovery. If you made a request for compensation by sending a demand letter, then your case should have been investigated already. However, discovery provides another opportunity to find documents and other information that will clarify what happened during the crash.
For example, you might need to sit for a deposition and answer questions under oath about your injuries and about the collision. Your lawyer can also have the driver who struck you sit down for a deposition as well. Also, you can request documents in each other’s possession. For example, you might ask the defendant for more information about their insurance policies. If the defendant has multiple insurance policies, you can increase the amount of compensation available.
Discovery can take several months to complete.
Preparing for court is a long process. The judge might hold many meetings at court for the parties to provide status updates and to resolve other disputed issues. Depending on how busy the court is, this process could take a couple months.
Also, either the defendant or plaintiff (or both) might ask the judge to decide the case on a motion for summary judgment. With this motion, you argue that you should win without any need for a trial because no facts help the other side. Each side gets to respond to each other’s motion. This back and forth can take months also. If neither side wins its summary judgment motion, then you will schedule a trial.
Trials should go quickly—a few days or a week. At the end of the trial, the jury will deliver a verdict along with an amount of money that they are awarding you. At that point, you can ask the defendant to pay the amount that you are owed.
Of course, if the defendant loses, he can file an appeal with a higher court, asking the appellate court to reverse the verdict against him. Appeals can take a year, from start to finish. However, the defendant has to get the court’s permission to delay the payment of your judgment. Otherwise, you should be paid as you wait for the appeal to play out.
Injured in a Crash? Speak to a Car Accident Lawyer in Denver
The process for receiving compensation after a crash is lengthy and complicated. Many injured motorists unfortunately try to represent themselves and soon find themselves overwhelmed or settling for too little money.
At the Olson Law Firm, we have obtained many favorable settlements and court verdicts for our clients. Please contact us today to schedule your free consultation.
Sean Olson is much more than just a personal injury lawyer. Sean is an advocate who helps those who are injured navigate our complex legal system. And he is a voice for those who are injured and cannot speak for themselves.