When you’ve been injured in a car accident * or another incident caused by someone else’s negligence, the length of time it takes to reach a settlement can be a matter of months to a few years. That may seem like a long time to wait for fair compensation, but before accepting a quick settlement offer from an insurance company, we highly recommend that you consult an experienced personal injury attorney. Many an injured person who has taken that quick check from an adjuster has ruefully learned, when the results of injuries later surface, that he settled too quickly for too little.
A good injury lawyer begins by dealing with insurance companies directly so you can focus on recovering and rebuilding your life. While many cases can be settled in 12 to 18 months after an incident, complex cases with disputed liability and/or catastrophic injuries may require another year or more. Your lawyer will explain what factors may affect the time frame for resolution of your claim so you can know what to expect.
Your attorney negotiates on your behalf and can advise you about whether or not an offer represents your optimum financial outcome. He or she will guide your decision about accepting the offer. Most personal injury cases in Minnesota can be settled without court approval, excluding wrongful death cases and those involving minors. Once settlement negotiations are finalized (and court approval received, if necessary), a few steps remain.
Steps to receive your injury settlement check:
- Release signed
- Liens, expenses and fees paid
- Remaining balance released to you
The defendant’s insurance company typically does not cut a check until it receives a signed a release from you that removes any future liability by the defendant (and his insurer) for the injury. This requirement is why it is so important to be deliberate in your decisions and allow time for your body to completely heal. A doctor usually isn’t able to determine whether you’ve suffered any permanent impairment until about a year after the incident occurred or surgery was completed. Many insurance companies make a lowball settlement offer right after a car accident or other incident. In fact, some are notorious for this tactic. If a victim accepts the offer and signs a release it may become impossible to ask for more money later, even if the victim discovers down the road he or she needs surgery or was more badly hurt than initially perceived.
A release may be a fairly simple one-page form or may be a very complex document with numerous detailed terms and conditions that your attorney needs to examine closely and maybe modify. If that’s true, negotiations about the terms must take place before you sign.
Once you sign the release, the defendant’s insurer will issue a check and will typically send it to your attorney, who places it into a trust or escrow account. After a serious injury, bills can pile up. In Minnesota car accidents, a victim’s own auto policy covers some medical expenses and lost wages, but only up to a point. After that, the victim’s health care policy will likely cover some or most of the medical costs, while out-of-pocket expenses may be owed by the victim to hospitals or other healthcare providers.
Settlement award funds may have to be used to pay back a health insurance company for costs it covered related to your injury, depending on the language of the plan and whether it is state or federally regulated. Debts owed directly to providers must be paid, as well. Your lawyer will work to reduce these liens. For example, a hospital can be persuaded to reduce its total bill depending on the circumstances. These negotiations can take some time, especially if bills are still moving through the system between providers and health insurance.
The law firm handling your case will incur expenses, such as obtaining copies of medical bills, hiring expert witnesses or travel to take depositions from various parties. Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, which means that a percentage of your settlement is owed to your lawyer, plus expenses. These fees and expenses are deducted and the remaining balance will then be provided to you. Generally, all required payments to health carriers and providers, your attorney fees and expenses, as well as your net recovery, are disbursed at the same time. Your attorney will issue a net to you check that you will be given at the law firm.
If you’ve been seriously injured due to another’s negligence, contact us today. Suk Law Firm has recovered more than $125 million on behalf of our clients and we are ready to assist you.
Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.
*A note about language:
Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”