After being injured in an auto accident, you treat with good Doctors and, hopefully, have retained a good lawyer. Now you are wondering, when do you get paid for your pain and suffering?
There is only one good reason to settle your case quickly. If you have a serious injury and the amount of insurance available is clearly insufficient to fully compensate you for your injuries, you can and should settle quickly. For instance, if you were hospitalized and have tens of thousands of dollars of unpaid medical expenses, but the negligent driver only has $10,000 in insurance coverage and you have no uninsured motorist coverage, you should settle for policy limits quickly. If you delay, your health insurance carrier, Medicare or Medicaid may assert liens that prevent you from getting any significant amount of money in your pocket.
Before accepting policy limits, your lawyer may want to do an asset search to confirm that the negligent driver does not have other assets to pay for your losses in excess of policy limits. But, rarely does a wealthy person drive with such low amounts of coverage. Doing an asset search will provide assurances that you could not have collected any more than the policy limits from the other driver.
If the other driver has a significant amount of liability insurance or you have uninsured motorist coverage, a good lawyer will not attempt to settle your case until you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). I describe being at MMI as the time when you are as good as you are going to get. Understand that accidents can leave you with a permanent disability or impairment. You will likely still experience a pain or disability when you reach MMI. You may also continue to need health care. But, once you are at MMI, you know how the accident has harmed you and your lawyer should be able to estimate the value of your case.
If there is insurance available, it is a huge mistake to settle before reaching MMI. It would be very unfortunate if you settled your case, only to learn later that you were suffering from an injury you were unaware of or one that required surgery. You must know the full extent of your injury before you settle.
Some injured parties who are not represented by counsel, are approached shortly after the accident by a claims adjuster who wants to settle fast before you learn about the extent of your injuries. If any claims adjuster offers to settle your case, know that this is a red flag. They are likely offering you much less than the true value. See a lawyer soon before signing anything.
I have found that it typically takes at least 6 months following the accident for a client to reach MMI. Sometimes it takes much longer. But, remember that all cases must be settled or be filed in court within the statute of limitations or else you could be forever barred from doing so. In Florida, there is a four (4) year statute of limitations for negligence cases.
If you have any questions about the proper time to settle your case, speak with your lawyer and he/she would be happy to discuss it with you. If you do not have a lawyer, please call my office so that we can discuss this important issue.