Being in an accident can put your life on hold. You might not be able to work for weeks, months, or even years, and that entire time can feel like a never-ending routine of doctor’s visits, treatments, and medication.
But while you can feel things are at a standstill, the rest of the world keeps moving, and it can mean you find yourself relying on compensation to pay your bills and allow you to move forward.
But how long does it take to get a settlement check after an accident? Once you sign the settlement release papers, you’re a step closer to receiving your compensation. Still, there are other things you need to consider before signing on the dotted line to ensure the amount you’ve agreed to is enough to cover all of your expenses.
We look at what those things are and why, sometimes, it’s better to hold off on your personal injury claim to get the compensation you deserve.
What Is a Personal Injury Settlement?
A personal injury settlement is a monetary payment designed to compensate you for your losses — known legally as “damages” — after an accident that wasn’t your fault. If you accept a settlement, you release the defendant from liability, which means you cannot pursue additional legal action later — such as taking them to court.
This is one reason settlement negotiations and personal injury claims more widely take a long time. If you rush the settlement process and agree to a payout, but your injuries get worse, and you need additional treatment that your settlement won’t cover the cost of, you can’t sue the person or party responsible, as you’ve already released them of fault.
Personal injury settlements comprise two types of compensation — economic damages and non-economic damages.
Economic damages cover the tangible and provable costs associated with your injury, such as lost wages from not being able to work, damage to your car or other property, and medical bills, which includes emergency room and doctor’s fees, surgery and aftercare, physical therapy, medication, and adaptations to your home to help you manage a permanent or long-term illness or disability.
Non-economic damages compensate you for the things that aren’t as easy to quantify, such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment. Non-economic damages are determined for each day your injuries affect your life or by adding a multiplier to your total economic damages. As such, these damages can be sizable and play a big role in supporting injury victims financially over the long term.
What Happens When I Agree to a Settlement?
If settlement negotiations are successful, you and the defendant will verbally agree to a sum. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean conversations will happen directly between you and the defendant — your personal injury lawyer can handle the process for you and negotiate with the defendant’s attorney and the insurance company.
Signing the Release Forms
The next step is to sign a settlement agreement. This document is signed by all parties and confirms that you accept a settlement of the agreed-upon amount.
When you sign this legally binding release, you also agree to not pursue a lawsuit or any other legal action against the defendant related to your accident and injuries in exchange for compensation.
It’s vital to look at these forms carefully and consult a personal injury lawyer before signing them. While this can delay a resolution and, therefore, how long it takes to get your settlement check, it’s worth waiting and ensuring you agree to all terms and stipulations.
The Insurance Company Processes Your Release Forms and Payment
Once all parties have signed the release forms, they are sent to the liable party’s insurance company to sign. Then, the insurance company will process your payment and release the check to your attorney. This typically happens quickly, but delays can happen that will extend your wait.
Then, one more step needs to happen before you get your settlement check.
Your Attorney Deposits Your Check and Deducts Fees
When the insurance company sends the check to your personal injury attorney, your lawyer will deposit it into a trust account. Once the check has cleared, they will deduct liens (outstanding bills) and fees.
The most common type of liens deducted from a settlement is medical liens. If your lawyer previously arranged for payment of your medical bills to be postponed until you agree to a settlement, they will deduct these expenses and pay your medical care provider for you.
Other liens can include fees for unpaid child support and government aid such as Medicare and Medicaid. The liens deducted from your settlement will be unique to your case. Still, your personal injury lawyer will keep you updated throughout the claims process and provide an account outlining the cost.
If your lawyer works on a contingency basis — like the attorneys at our personal injury law firm — your legal fees will also be deducted from your settlement.
Attorney fees typically comprise the time spent on your claim, administrative costs for filing motions in court, and expert testimony needed to support your claim, such as if a doctor testifies to the long-term impact of your injuries and how long you will need ongoing treatment.
However, some law firms take a flat fee, usually a predetermined percentage of your settlement. Your lawyer can send you an invoice, so you know what your legal fees were spent on.
Receiving Your Compensation
The final step is the one you’ve been waiting for — receiving your settlement check!
Once your liens and attorney fees have been deducted, your lawyer will process your settlement. You can choose to receive your check in the mail or pick it up at your lawyer’s office.
How Soon Can I Get a Settlement Check?
Now that we’ve laid out all the steps that go into processing a settlement check — without considering how long it might take to reach the initial verbal agreement — you can see that it’s quite a lengthy process.
Even once your lawyer has received the check from the insurance company and deducted their fees and any liens, it can take several weeks before you receive your check.
As a general rule, you should expect it to take roughly six weeks from signing the release forms to get your settlement check.
Assuming that you accept a settlement offer early in the negotiation process, your personal injury claim can be resolved in as short a time as a couple of months. However, settling early is rarely advisable — especially if you have severe injuries that require long-term treatment — as you may be entitled to much more than what is on the table.
What Factors Can Affect How Long It Takes to Get a Settlement Check?
Every personal injury claim is unique, and several factors can affect how long it takes to get your settlement check. These are mostly related to the period before you reach an agreement, but there may also be delays once you’ve signed your release forms and are waiting for your check to be deposited.
Who’s Liable for Your Accident
One of the earliest priorities when filing a personal injury claim is determining who is liable for your accident. The easier it is to do this — and back it up with sufficient evidence — the faster you will likely get a fair settlement. If multiple parties are liable, such as in a truck accident, and it’s hard to determine who is most liable, insurance companies will likely drag their feet and offer less than what you deserve. This can mean negotiations take longer, ultimately affecting how long you’ll have to wait to get your settlement check.
Your Non-Economic Damages
As we covered above, non-economic damages compensate you for things like:
- Pain and suffering from your injury
- Emotional distress or anguish
- Loss of consortium (if you’ve lost a spouse, child, or parent)
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment.
However, these come in many forms and can be difficult to quantify, much less put a monetary figure to. For example, if two people are in two separate accidents and each suffers depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for months afterward, who’s to say one person is suffering more and is therefore entitled to more compensation?
This is especially problematic if the multiplier method is used to calculate non-economic damages. Your attorney and the insurance company might disagree on what amount your economic damages should be multiplied by.
Disagreements or delays in negotiating a settlement of non-economic damages can massively impact how long it takes for you to get your settlement check.
How Quickly Your Injuries Improve
How long your personal injury claim takes — and how long before you receive compensation — is entirely dependent on the extent of your injuries. It’s common to wait until you have reached what is called “maximum medical improvement” before settling a claim. This is because if you settle before you’ve fully recovered — or recovered as well as can be expected if you develop a long-term or permanent condition — and your injuries then get worse, you won’t be entitled to more compensation.
This can put you in a challenging financial position if you need additional medical care or surgery, as the settlement you agreed to likely won’t cover the cost, leaving you to pay for treatment out of your own pocket.
How Large Your Settlement Is
If you’re entitled to a significant personal injury settlement, you can expect it to take longer to resolve your claim and get paid.
Claims involving potential six or seven-figure settlements are inherently more complex and require an in-depth investigation and review. This is because a single piece of evidence can have a major impact when we get into bigger numbers.
For example, let’s say your economic damages total $100,000 and an expert’s testimony can tip the scales between a multiplier of two and three. A multiplier of two would result in a settlement of $200,000, but a multiplier of three would entitle you to $300,000.
Of course, your attorney will fight to get you the maximum possible compensation, but the insurance company will want to avoid paying out that extra $100,000, which means negotiations can take much longer.
Delays Once a Settlement Is Negotiated
When you reach a verbal agreement and sign all the required forms, the end is in sight, and you’re close to receiving your settlement check. However, other delays can happen, and there’s little you can do except wait a little longer.
If a bank is closed — such as during the weekend or on a Federal Holiday — your money can’t be deposited until the bank reopens.
It’s also worth noting that it can take longer to process if you’ve agreed to a large settlement. Banks will sometimes put larger sums on hold to verify it’s a legitimate payment. Banks can legally hold money for a “reasonable amount of time,” but what constitutes “reasonable” varies by bank. If your money is held, you can expect it to be released after no more than seven business days.
Insurance Company Delays
The time it takes to get your settlement check can also be delayed by the insurance company. For example, you may sign the release papers on the first day of the month, but it may take several more days if not weeks, before the insurance company writes your check and sends it to your attorney. This will vary depending on the insurance company’s internal policies.
Some will only write and process checks a couple of times a month, but only on a certain day of the week, so if the forms reach the insurance company on a Wednesday, but they process checks every two weeks on a Tuesday, you’ll need to wait until the next payment date rolls around before your check is even sent to your lawyer.
If you have a subrogation claim, it can delay how long it takes for you to get your settlement check.
But what is insurance subrogation? In simple terms, subrogation is when one party stands in for another. It’s best illustrated with an example.
|Insurance Subrogation Example
If you’re in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you may claim on your car insurance to cover the cost of repairing your vehicle. If you have health insurance, you may also receive a payout to cover your medical expenses. However, because the accident wasn’t your fault — but, rather, the fault of the drunk driver — your insurance companies shouldn’t be responsible for paying those bills.
This entitles them to sue the liable party’s (the driver) insurance company to recover the money they paid you, as they stepped in — through an act of subrogation — to cover your bills.
However, insurance companies aren’t the only parties to engage in subrogation. If you are eligible for government assistance, such as Medicare, Medicaid, or veterans’ benefits, you may need to repay any funds provided.
These parties may move slowly, which can delay how long it takes before you receive your settlement check.
While getting your settlement check as early as possible might be a priority, it’s not worth it if you don’t get the full amount you’re entitled to. Our personal injury lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio will negotiate the settlement you deserve and do all we can to make it a smooth process with as few delays as possible.
Book a free consultation with the Law Ninja, Dr. Louis Patino, and his team of expert and compassionate personal injury lawyers today. Submit a contact form or call 855-LAW-NINJA and find out how much compensation you could receive — and how long it might take to get your settlement check.