Factors that Can Delay a Car Accident Settlement

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Key Points:

  • The majority of Georgia car accident claims are settled without the victim having to file a lawsuit, but the timeline for reaching an insurance settlement varies depending on the facts of each case.
  • Settlement agreements can be delayed by certain factors, such the timing of medical treatment, the insurance company or lawyers involved, disputes over who is at fault for the accident, and the insured’s policy limit.
  • You may not want to settle your case until you have a complete picture of your current and future medical needs.
  • If an insurance company or defendant delays payment after settlement, it may be possible to enforce your settlement by filing a legal or collection action.

When you’ve been hurt in a car accident, you may be concerned about how long it will take to recover settlement compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. In Georgia, and in most other states, the majority of car accident claims can be settled without the victim having to file a lawsuit. However, the timeline for reaching an insurance settlement varies from case to case.  Realistically, there is no way to predict exactly how long it will take to receive compensation.  

A settlement agreement can be delayed by certain factors, such the timing of medical treatment, how long your medical care will take, and how long it takes to gather the medical records and other evidence.  Other factors include the insurance company, business or lawyers involved, the amount or type of insurance, and disputes over who is at fault for the accident.

Unfortunately, delays in receiving a settlement check can create an additional financial and emotional burden for the victim, who may be overwhelmed with mounting bills and lost wages.

How Long Can a Car Accident Settlement Be Delayed?

Some car accidents are settled quickly, while others can take months or even years to resolve. The circumstances of each case determine the timeline. For example, if your injuries are extensive or complex, it could take more time to assess the full extent of your losses.

If there is a dispute over who was at fault for the accident, it will take more time for the parties to investigate and negotiate a settlement. Other factors, such as the at-fault driver’s insurance policy limits, also play a role in the timing of a settlement.  Cases with small insurance limits may settle more quickly if the medical bills or other damages are larger than the policy limits, triggering the insurer to simply pay out limits and move-on.

Even though delays can be frustrating and costly, you don’t want to sacrifice the value of your claim for the sake of expediency. It’s often better to be careful and make sure you’re getting a settlement that provides full and fair compensation for your injuries than rush into a quick offer that doesn’t cover your future costs. 

Gathering Medical Treatment Records and Medical Bills

Until you know the full extent of your injuries and medical expenses, you can’t make a settlement demand for the total cost of your accident. Bills for hospital visits, ambulance rides, surgery, and follow-up care may take months to arrive. In addition, you may not know how long it will take for you to recover and how much treatment you’ll need in the future. You may not know how long you’ll be out of work and how your life will be changed by your injuries.

In some cases, it’s better to wait until you’ve completed medical treatment before starting to negotiate a settlement with the insurance company. In serious injury cases attorneys may also obtain reports from your treating doctors and even economists to estimate your future medical costs.  In each case, the type of injury and related costs play a role in how long it may take to assess the full value of your settlement claim. The insurance company will not agree to fully compensate you for your injuries without proof of both past and future expenses.

The Amount of Available Insurance Coverage Can Speed Up or Slow Down Georgia Injury Case Settlements

You may assume that in cases where there’s plenty of insurance available to cover your costs, the settlement process moves faster. However, the opposite can be true if the insurance carrier assumes that a jury verdict is unlikely to exceed the insured’s policy limit.

Here’s why: the at-fault driver’s insurance company is usually required only to pay your damages up to the policy limit. However, in some circumstances (and if your attorney lays the proper ground work) when the evidence is clear that the damages are greater than the policy limit and the insurance company negligently refuses to pay, a jury verdict that exceeds the limit could result.  If the insurance company had negligently or in-bad-faith, refused to settle within limits, it can be possible that the insurance company must pay more than the policy limits.  This risk often motivates insurance companies to pay policy limits faster in serious cases.

On the other hand, if your claim is valued well below the insurance policy limit, some insurance carriers calculate that that a jury verdict in your favor will be safely below their maximum payout. Thus, there’s less pressure for the insurance company to settle quickly because it has less to lose.  

For example, if you have a winning case and $100,000 in medical bills and the insurance policy limit is $50,000, the company is more likely to quickly offer you the full coverage insurance limit amount of $50,000. If you have the same policy limit, but only $5,000 in bills and your injury is not permanent, the insurance company may not be in any hurry to settle your claim.

Disputes Over Who’s at Fault

Insurance company’s will often agree to pay a settlement demand only after the adjuster is convinced their insured was fully (or at least more than one-half) responsible for the accident. Insurance adjusters are more easily convinced when there is clear evidence of fault, such as an admission by the driver or a police report or traffic citation indicating the driver was negligent.

In situations where there’s no clear documentation showing who was at fault, the claimant may need to collect evidence and present it to the insurance company.  If you don’t have the proof needed to win in Court, the insurance adjuster may just sit on his or her hands and refuse to make a settlement offer.  Delayed investigation often means delayed settlement.

Evidence that can help you prove a car accident was the other drivers fault includes witness statements, police reports, 911 recordings, photos of the damage and accident scene, video surveillance, and possibly accident reconstruction reports. Also, the insurance company may conduct its own investigation as well—if there’s a difference between your findings, you or your attorney will have to fight to prove the other driver was at fault during negotiations.

Because Georgia is a comparative negligence state, your compensation can also be reduced if you were partly to blame for the accident. And, if the insurance company can prove that you were at least 50 percent at fault, it is not obligated to pay you any compensation.

Type of Insurance Company

In all car accident cases, you’ll need to provide the insurance company documentation that proves fault and the full extent of your injuries. You may find, however, that even if you give the adjuster sufficient evidence to support your demand, the carrier may still fight your claim or offer you a settlement far below what it’s worth.

Quality insurance companies are more likely to offer you a reasonable settlement. Insurance companies that specialize in providing cheap coverage for high-risk drivers are known for making lowball offers. If you have to file a claim with that type of carrier, you may have to negotiate longer or even file a lawsuit to receive full compensation.

Using a private attorney to defend a car accident claim—especially a disputed case with lots of evidence—can be expensive because these law firms charge by the hour. If a carrier is being charged based on the lawyer’s time, it has more of an incentive to resolve the claim quickly. Many insurance companies avoid higher costs by using in-house lawyers who don’t charge an hourly rate, so they may be more likely to drag out the settlement process.

High-Volume Injury Lawyers

Using a lawyer who is not fully invested in your case or is spread too thin can affect the timing and amount of your settlement. Attorneys who have a high volume of clients likely won’t have the necessary time to give your case the care and attention it requires, which could compromise the quality of the investigation and settlement demand package.

If your lawyer is too slow or overworked to focus on your case, it can cause delays in the settlement process and weaken your negotiating position with the insurance company. If your attorney isn’t negotiating from a position of strength, you may not receive full compensation for your claim.

Georgia Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury

In Georgia, you have two years to file your claim in court for injuries arising from a car accident. The clock starts to run on the date of your accident. If you don’t file your lawsuit within that period, you will likely be barred from recovering any compensation.  There are also a few, but very limited, exceptions that can stretch out the two-year statute of limitations.  Because these are very fact specific (pending criminal charges against a defendant, a brain injury that makes the victim unable to proceed are two examples), it is best to consult an injury lawyer long before the two-year time limit is about to expire.

Additionally, because other factors can cause delays in the settlement process, you should make your claim with the insurance company in plenty of time to allow for negotiations. If you wait too long, your only recourse for recovering compensation may be rushing to file a lawsuit before the statute runs out.  Many lawyers and law firms will not accept a case that is within the last few weeks or months before the statute of limitations expires.

Consultations Are Free at The Millar Law Firm

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, our personal injury lawyers can answer any questions you may have about compensation and insurance settlements. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

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