How Long Does it Take to Get Compensation After a Car Accident in Georgia?

Car accidents are traumatic and create financial burdens for accident victims.  When someone else caused your injury, you want to know how long it will take for you to receive money, known as compensation, from the insurance company or at-fault driver or their company.

Many things can determine how long it takes to get money after a car accident.  Most personal injury cases, but not all, settle without a lawsuit or legal action being filed.  Cases that settle without a lawsuit usually, but not always settle more quickly.  Cases that require a lawsuit may still settle before the case reaches trial, and generally take longer, for a variety of reasons.

Other things that you may want to know about, such as how accident victims may handle costs for automobile repairs, rental cars, medical bills, lost pay and other financial hardships associated with car accidents are covered in other articles on this website.

Knowing when you are likely to receive settlement compensation may ease your burden during this hectic and inconvenient time.  This article will help guide you through common reasons that increase or decrease the amount of time it takes to settle, and to get paid, after a car accident case in which you were injured.

What factors tend to increase the amount of time a car accident case takes to settle?

How long your medical care lasts, and the last date of treatment:  If you do not wait until you have finished your medical care and treatment, you are not likely to receive a settlement offer for the full value of your case.  The insurance company is unlikely to pay full value, or even to offer a reasonable settlement, until the amount of your medical bills and the full extent of your injuries and your physical condition following a wreck are known.  If the insurance company is making a quick settlement offer while you are still injured, watch out.  Your case is likely to be worth much more, or it is case with low insurance limits.

How the amount of available insurance coverage can affect the speed of settlement:  Although it seems counter-intuitive, when there is a large amount of insurance coverage available in a case, it can actually take longer for a case to settle.  When the amount of available coverage is much larger than the amount of your medical bills and other damages, there is less pressure on the insurance company.  For example, lets assume that you have a serious injury with $80,000.00 in medical bills and the insurance policy limit is $100,000.00.  Insurance companies know that serious injury cases with $80,000.00 in bills are likely to end up in a Jury Verdict (if suit is filed) greater than the policy limit.  If that were to happen, there is a chance the insurance company would have to pay above the policy limits, unless the insurance company had already (and quickly) offered to pay-out the entire policy.

Compare this to a case involving a minor injury and $10,000.00 in medical bills and a $100,000.00 insurance policy.  The insurance company knows that it is very unlikely that your Jury Verdict will exceed the policy limit, so there is very little pressure on the insurance adjuster and the insurance carrier to settle quickly.

Is liability, meaning who is at fault, clear?  Cases where the negligent driver admits to being at fault, or where the police issue a citation (traffic ticket) to a driver who pays the ticket often settle much faster than cases where you are being blamed for being partly or even completely at-fault.  If you are being blamed in whole or in-part, expect that the insurance company is likely to resist paying your claim. Additional investigation, witness statements, 911 audio recordings, surveillance video from nearby businesses may all help to get your case settled, but the more proof you must present, the longer the case may take to settle and the more likely your case may end up requiring a lawsuit, that is, if your attorney determines that the case can be won at trial.

The insurance company or defense attorney:  Some insurance companies have a reputation for fighting every case, or making settlement offers far below the normal settlement range for the type of accident or injury, or the amount of medical bills.  It may take a lot of negotiating to get the case to its full settlement potential, and often when the insurance company is just plain stubborn, a lawsuit must be filed.

Who is paying the defense lawyer?  Private law firms and defense attorneys are paid by the hour.  It can get quite expensive to defend a personal injury case.  However, some insurance companies hire in-house attorneys.  This can drag out the amount of time it takes to reach a settlement, because the insurance company knows that they will not have to hire more expensive outside lawyers.  This can result in unnecessary foot dragging by the insurance company.

Your case is against the local, state or federal government:  If the at-fault driver was working for a government agency, certain notices must be filed and time periods must elapse before the government agency can be required to pay your claim.  If your case is against a government, there are likely to be very strict notice and reporting requirements that must be filed, or your claim could be denied or dismissed.  Do not expect a case against a government agency to settle quickly.

Medicaid or Medicare involved:  If some or all of your bills were paid by medicaid or medicare, you are likely going to have to reimburse some or all of those payments to medicaid or medicare.  This means that a portion of your settlement may need to be set aside to pay the lien.  Most medical liens are negotiable, but it will increase the amount of time it takes before you can receive all of the money from your settlement.

What things may make my car accident case settle more quickly?

Quickly presenting the evidence that proves you will win on liability (fault)aim:  After the accident, you will need the police report, photographs of the damage to the vehicles, pictures of your injuries, and any necessary witness statements or other evidence.  This evidence is presented to the insurance adjuster for the at-fault driver, who will have to make a decision about whether the case would be won or lost in court, should a lawsuit be filed.  You want the adjuster to make the decision that his or her insured (the at-fault driver) would lose the case in court, so that the insurance company does not deny or put a discount on the amount being offered.  The sooner you can present this evidence, the faster the insurance company will decide not to fight your case on liability (fault).

The insurance company and adjuster have all of your medical records and bills and lost wage documentation:  Most insurance adjusters will not make a settlement offer until they have all of your medical bills and records and proof of the amount of your lost pay.  Insurance adjusters use these records to document their files, to set the amount or limit they are willing to offer, and to get approval from their  superiors at the insurance company to settle the claim.  The larger the claim or case, usually the more and better documentation is needed.

Giving the insurance company enough information to set a reserve:  A case reserve is the amount of money an insurance company must set aside to pay your claim.  If the adjuster sets the reserve too low, it can take time and (sometimes a lot of) effort to get the case re-reserved to a level that the insurance company can pay.  This is a good reason to let the adjuster know as soon as possible how severe your injuries are.  On the other hand, reserves may be limited by the amount of the insurance policy.

You are dealing with a “good” insurance company:  Although they are rare, a high-quality insurance company is more likely to make a reasonable settlement offer and not drag the process out, but only after the full amount of your medical bills and your physical recovery are known.  Many of the low-budget insurers or insurance companies who insure high-risk drivers have a reputation for making settlement offers much lower than the fair value of the case, which can make the case take longer.

Your case has large damages and a low insurance limit:  It is unfortunate, but some cases settle quickly because the value of the case is much greater than the available insurance.  In many of these situations, the insurance company may offer to pay its policy limit even when you are still receiving medical treatment.  Sometimes the case settles quickly in response to a time-limited demand, but this is generally only effective when the damages are clearly greater than the amount of the insurance coverage.  When a properly drafted time limited demand (in Georgia these are often called “Holt Demands”) is sent, and the insurance company is put on notice that the case is likely to be larger than policy limits, there is pressure on the insurance company to settle.

How long does it take to receive money after a car accident settlement?

If you and the other party agree to settle your case in or out of court, the settlement agreement will contain the terms and conditions of payment.

The payment terms will determine how and when the at-fault party must compensate you. Typically, payment will be made in one of two ways:

  • Lump-sum settlements are usually paid within 30 days of the date the settlement is agreed upon.
  • Periodic payments require the responsible party to make monthly or semi-monthly payments over a specific period until the agreed-upon settlement amount is paid in full.
  • Settlements requiring Court approval, in Georgia, may take two to four months.  Most cases involving minor children or incapacitated adults require probate or state court approval.

Be careful when agreeing to a settlement.  When you settle, you typically waive your right to pursue additional compensation from the other party.  Therefore, it is important that the settlement amount you agree to considers not only the expenses and losses you have already suffered but those expenses you are likely to suffer in the future, as well.

These potential expenses can include ongoing medical needs, rehabilitation costs, decreased future earnings, and other financial hardships that may occur as a result of your accident or injuries.

How long does it take to receive compensation after I win in court?

If your case goes to trial before a judge or jury, you might have waited weeks, months, or in some extreme cases several years.

When the court announces a verdict and judgment in your favor, the defense typically has 30 days to file an appeal.  If they appeal, it is unlikely that you will receive any payment until the appeal is over.  Fortunately, most cases are not appealed.

After a Verdict and Judgment, most insurance companies pay within matter of a few weeks to a month.  If the insurance company or the defendant fails to pay, you may obtain a writ of fi fa and take additional legal action to collect against the individual defendant or the business you sued.  However, insurance companies rarely let this happen, and almost always pay the judgment fairly quickly.

Should I deal directly with the at-fault driver or business?

If you’ve been involved in a fender-bender where there were no injuries or one where you suffered only minor injuries, you may have been thinking of trying to resolve the matter informally with the at-fault driver without involving an insurance company or filing a lawsuit.  Or, you may have a larger injury case, but are dealing with a business (often a small company) that wants to deal directly with you, without making an insurance claim.

In this scenario, the responsible party (the driver or business responsible for the accident) likely agreed to compensate you for a certain amount in return for you not taking legal action against him or the company.

Sure, resolving your dispute in this manner may seem enticing: you are promised compensation on the spot, or usually within a few days, and you do not need to find a personal injury attorney. However, you should be cautious about accepting such an offer.

If the at-fault party agrees to pay you at a later date, your arrangement should be reduced to writing and signed.  But, if they later refuse to pay in full, you may have to file a lawsuit against them for breach of the settlement agreement and then try to collect it.  To make matters worse, you will probably not be able to collect from the at-fault driver’s insurance company, because the claim had never been submitted.

If you are asked to sign a document before you receive the agreed-upon compensation, be sure to read it carefully or have an attorney review it. You should be fully aware of the agreement’s terms and what legal rights—if any—you have to pursue additional compensation later.

When should you accept a quick settlement offer from an insurance company?

It is not uncommon for you to be contacted by an insurance adjuster within a few days of the accident offering to send you a check to “pay your medical bills” and settle your case.

Unless your injury and other damages were very small, you may want to be very careful and turn down the offer.   This is because once you accept the settlement offer, you may not be able to receive more money in the future.  If you need additional medical care, the at-fault driver and his or her insurance company will no longer be required to pay for it.  Additionally, you will not have had the chance to know whether you will fully recover from the injury, meaning that you could be leaving a lot of money on the table.

You can always accept the offer later.  It is highly unlikely that the offer will be permanently withdrawn.  In fact, it may be increased.

If you do want to take a chance and settle your case very quickly, demand that the insurance company put a check in your hands within an agreed-upon number of days and tell them you will be hiring a lawyer if they have not paid you.  Generally speaking, however, our advice is not to settle your case without consulting with an attorney.  Insurance institute studies have shown that people who hire a personal injury lawyer receive, on average, three and one-half times more money – even after the law firm has been paid.

What if I settle or win my case and I am not paid?

If you won a verdict or judgment in court or you entered into a settlement agreement and the other party fails to pay you, you may be able to enforce your Judgment with a collection action or your settlement with a breach of contract action.  A settlement agreement, properly drafted, is a binding contract.

If you win, you may be entitled to recover not only the compensation you were originally supposed to receive but also:

  • interest;
  • court costs; and
  • attorney’s fees, should you hire one to collect the judgment or file the collection lawsuit.

Do I have to pay attorney’s fees if I do not receive a settlement or win a lawsuit?

Contingency Fees: Money should not be a barrier to you exercising your legal rights.  Most personal injury lawyers handle car accident cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that your personal injury attorney does not receive a fee for his or her services unless he or she is able to recover compensation on your behalf.

What happens if I lose in court?  Many people are frightened about the prospect of filing a personal injury lawsuit because they fear the expense if they are not successful in settling their case or winning a verdict in court.  Fortunately, Georgia does not have a “loser pays” system, meaning that in most cases if you lose in court you do not pay the opposing side’s attorneys fees or costs.  A few years go, however, Georgia enacted an Offer of Settlement statute, that allows a party to make a settlement offer that, if not accepted, could result in payment of the fees and costs of the other side.

 

How we can help

At The Millar Law Firm, our personal injury attorneys are committed to helping you receive the money you need for your injuries as quickly as possible.

We take the time to understand your needs and desires and then formulate a strategy to help you get the most compensation possible in the shortest time frame.

Contact us at (404) 620-4301 or submit your information today to receive your free case evaluation.