How Long Will My Car Accident Case Take to Settle?
Florida’s laws set out an aggressive timeline for insurers to settle claims. If a claim contains everything needed to support an insurance payment, the insurer can settle the claim in as few as 64 days.
But things rarely go according to the timeline. Insurers make payments reluctantly. They find reasons to slow the process down and use the delay to their advantage when negotiating with you.
Here is a guide to understanding how long your car accident case will likely take to settle and what an injury lawyer can do to help.
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First Steps for an Insurance Claim
Insurance claims often start right after your car accident. You should report your accident to your insurer within a day or two after an accident so the deadlines for settling your accident can start to run.
The No-Fault Insurance Process
Florida uses a no-fault insurance system. This means that you will report your accident to the auto insurance company that insures your vehicle, regardless of who caused the accident.
Legislators designed the no-fault insurance system so that insurers could settle claims faster. Since you always file with your insurer, no matter who caused the accident, insurers do not need to investigate and determine fault.
Instead, under the no-fault system, insurers only need to determine whether the accident caused your injuries and whether your treatment was reasonably necessary.
The Best-Case Scenario for Settlement
After you report your claim, the insurer has 14 days to acknowledge your accident report and send you proof of claim forms. For many insurers, you can report your accident online and receive the proof of claim forms immediately.
You will return your proof of claim forms with documentation, like medical records and medical bills, to show the extent of your injuries. After receiving your proof of claim forms, the insurer has 30 days to decide whether to pay or deny the claim.
If the insurer offers payment for the claim, it can pay all of your claim or only part of your claim while it continues to investigate your claim.
If the insurer decides to pay the claim, it has 20 days to deliver the funds to you.
These deadlines set up the best-case scenario for settling your claim. If everything goes to plan, you could have money in your bank account in as little as 64 days after a car accident.
The Realistic Scenario for Settlement
Insurers do not like to pay claims. Instead of using your premium payments to pay for claims, insurers put some of the money into a reserve fund and invest the rest. Insurers pay claims from the reserve fund.
If it pays too many claims, the insurer must sell its investments and replenish the reserve fund. This eats into the insurer’s profitability.
Claims adjusters understand this. By delaying, reducing, or denying claim payments, their employer can make greater profits off of its investments.
Insurers cannot violate the deadlines set out under Florida law. The statutes allow 14 days to acknowledge your communications and 20 days to send payment. But the law allows some flexibility in the 30 days given to investigate your claim.
Some of the actions an insurer can take that will slow down a claim include:
- Asking for more documentation of your loss
- Denying your claim
- Denying part of your claim
- Reducing your claim value
If the insurer takes any of these steps in good faith during the 30 days, it has met the deadline and shifted the burden to you. You must then respond to the communication or risk losing your claim. As a result, your claim could take several months to settle.
Negotiating with the Insurer
An experienced injury lawyer can help at this stage. An attorney knows how to document a claim to limit the claims adjuster’s options for asking for more documentation or denying the claim. An attorney can also respond to a claim denial.
But the greatest value of a lawyer might be their negotiation skill. The initial offer from an insurer to pay your claim represents the opening bid in a negotiation. An injury lawyer can work with the claims adjuster to determine whether they can reach a settlement that pays fair compensation for your injuries.
The Fault-Based Insurance Process
Although Florida uses a no-fault insurance system, you can step out of this system if your medical expenses exceed your no-fault policy limits or you sustain a permanent injury. When either of these things happen, you can file a claim against the insurer for the driver who caused the accident.
The process for settling an insurance claim will proceed along the same timelines. But now, the insurer must determine fault. In most cases, this will lead the insurer to ask for more information.
If your injury lawyer can settle the insurance claim, you could still have money in your account within a few months after the car accident. But if the insurer will not settle, your lawyer will need to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Settling a Lawsuit
The insurance company will usually take a pragmatic approach to the case. If the cost of settling the case is less than the cost of defending the case, the insurer will settle.
But cases usually fail to settle because of legal or factual issues. Perhaps the insurer believes that you bear some of the blame for your injuries. Maybe the insurer suspects that you faked or exaggerated your injuries.
If you can settle a lawsuit, it could take months or even a year before you receive payment.
The Role of the Lawyer in Settling a Car Accident Case
The work of an injury lawyer begins early on in an accident case. The lawyer can help you to document your injuries for the insurance claim and determine whether you can opt-out of the no-fault system.
If you opt-out of the no-fault system, the lawyer can prepare your liability claim for the at-fault driver’s insurer and negotiate for the best possible settlement. The lawyer can file a lawsuit if you cannot reach a fair settlement.