Timeline to Settle a Massachusetts Car Accident CaseMany accident victims wonder how long it takes after being injured in a car accident to reach a settlement. This is a very good question and a reasonable concern for anyone hurt in a car crash. In many situations, an accident victim may be out of work and losing pay and/or receiving medical bills for outstanding balances in the mail or from collection agencies. Therefore, receiving compensation in a timely manner is very important. If you are in this position, it is understandable to want to know when your injury case will settle so you can recover money for your injuries and damages.

Our Framingham injury lawyers at Mahaney & Pappas, LLP have been helping accident victims for decades throughout Massachusetts recover the compensation they deserve. In our vast experience handling all types of personal injury claims, including motor vehicle accidents, there are numerous aspects that affect the amount of time it takes to reach a reasonable settlement. Below are some factors that may determine the time required to reach a successful settlement of an accident case in Massachusetts.  

The General Process of a Massachusetts Injury Case

In order to understand the amount of time it will take to reach a settlement in a Massachusetts car accident case, you should have some insight into the general process of injury cases. For a more detailed overview, see our article Understanding the Process and Time Required to Settle a Car Accident Case in Massachusetts. This will explain the process and help you understand the many things that need to be done and considered in accident cases, some of which can be time consuming. For instance, the initial investigation process, communications with the insurance companies, the medical records and bills retrieval process, and settlement process must all be taken into consideration when determining how long it will take to reach a settlement. However, below are some important aspects that will determine how long your case may take.

Injuries and Treatment May Dictate Length of an Injury Case

The extent of injuries suffered in a car crash and the treatment required will dictate the time it can take to reach a settlement of an accident case. Accidents that cause relatively minor injuries, such as soft tissue injuries, may reach a settlement sooner than those that cause more severe injuries. This is not always the case, however. For example, if you were injured in a rear-end car accident in Massachusetts and suffered a cervical strain or whiplash type injury, you may have been treated at the emergency room, then saw your primary care physician, and then completed physical therapy. Obviously, the length of treatment varies from person to person depending on how well they respond to treatment. But the length of time for treatment in these type of accident cases can range from a few weeks to a few months.

In contrast, a car accident that causes someone to suffer more severe injuries that require surgery, may take much longer to reach a settlement because the treatment and recovery may be lengthy and more involved. For example, we represented a gentleman who was rear-ended on the Massachusetts Turnpike near the Newton exits. In the car crash, he injured his shoulder. Initially, he was thought to have suffered a shoulder strain and was prescribed physical therapy. He had no improvements after twelve weeks of physical therapy. He was then referred to an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in shoulder injuries. The doctor administered cortisone injections and recommended continued therapy. When that failed to provide any meaningful relief, the surgeon ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed a torn rotator cuff and this gentleman had to have arthroscopic shoulder surgery. After his surgery, he then completed a lengthy course of post-surgical rehabilitation and therapy. This treatment process took almost a year and a half. Therefore, this case took much longer to reach a settlement than the example above with a soft tissue neck injury.

As a general rule, however, you should almost never settle an accident case until you have reached a medical endpoint or a maximum medical improvement. This is because when you settle a bodily injury claim, you should seek and recover a fair amount of compensation for your injuries and damages incurred. When determining the value of an injury claim, one aspect of damages is the amount of medical bills. If you settle your case before you are done treating, you will not know the full amount of medical bills you incur for medical treatment. Thus, you may be shortchanging yourself by settling before you finish treatment.

In the example above with the torn rotator cuff, if that client settled his case halfway through his treatment, he would not have recovered compensation for the thousands of dollars in medical costs and expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering after the halfway point.

Another very important consideration is to make sure appropriate legal action is taken to protect your rights to compensation where lengthy treatment is involved. I’m referring to the statute of limitations. In Massachusetts, an injury victim of a car accident has three years to either resolve their case by way of a settlement or file a lawsuit to protect their rights. If treatment takes more than three years and you have not settled the case or filed a personal injury lawsuit, you will be prohibited from taking legal action to recover the financial compensation you deserve. This is why accident victims should always seek the advice and opinions of an experienced Massachusetts car accident lawyer.  

Issues with Liability (Fault) in a Car Accident May Increase Length of Accident Case

Another major consideration in determining the length of time it takes to reach a settlement is whether or not there are issues with liability. By liability, we are talking about determining who was at-fault for causing the car crash and injuries. Remember, the legal standard for determining fault after a car accident is negligence.

Negligence is essentially carelessness. In order to be successful in a Massachusetts personal injury claim from a car crash, you must be able to prove or establish that the other driver was negligent and that their negligence caused the accident and your injuries.  Sometimes, there are no issues in determining fault (i.e., in rear-end accidents – the tailing driver is usually deemed to be at fault). Though, in other types of crashes, there may be a dispute as to who was at-fault. This issue can and usually does cause an injury case to take longer than a car accident case with no issue of liability.

In car accidents where liability is clear (i.e., rear-end collisions), auto insurance companies may accept liability. In these types of cases, the length of time to reach a settlement will usually only depend on the length of treatment as discussed in the preceding section and the usual process of a bodily injury claim. However, a car crash that raises issues of liability may take much longer.

If the auto insurance company denies liability – where they claim their driver was not at-fault for causing the crash – it may be necessary to file a personal injury lawsuit in Massachusetts against the other driver. Filing and litigating a lawsuit, while sometimes may be absolutely necessary, can be involved and lengthy. Typically, accident cases that go into suit will take much longer to resolve than those where the auto insurance carrier accepts liability.

The Settlement Negotiation Process May Take Time

In addition to the above circumstances, when wondering how long it will take to reach a settlement, you must consider the negotiation process. In some cases, a settlement may be reached rather quickly. In others, it may be a lengthier, time-consuming process.

Before an injury claim reaches the negotiation process, the bodily injury carrier (the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company) must be served with a demand for settlement. This demand should include the relevant medical records/notes along with the corresponding medical bills. Also, if applicable, you should provide the insurer with any lost wage documentation to substantiate any claim for lost earnings or other evidence of any other damages or losses incurred as a result of the car crash.

Once the demand is received by the injury adjuster, they usually will take about 30 days to review and evaluate the demand. Sometimes, the insurance company will evaluate the demand for settlement quickly and make an initial offer. Then, you or your personal injury lawyer will negotiate to reach a settlement figure that is fair and reasonable. In some cases, this can be done in a matter of a couple of weeks.

In other cases, the facts and circumstances may cause the insurance company to request additional documents or records. For example, if the medical records indicate that the accident victim had a previous back injury, the insurance company may request prior records. Whether to acquiesce to their request and produce the prior records depends on the specific case. However, if you and your accident attorney agree to produce the prior records, this may take some time to obtain the records from the medical provider(s) and send them to the insurance company. Then, they will obviously take additional time to review the prior records before making an initial offer and commencing the negotiation process.

Additionally, other factors such as health insurance liens, medical provider liens, and/or outstanding medical bills may need to be addressed or even negotiated. If this becomes necessary, which is typical, it will take some time to handle these issues. The amount of time it will take depends on the party or entity you are dealing with (i.e., health insurer – Medicare, MassHealth, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Harvard Pilgrim, etc…) and their willingness to compromise a reduction in their lien. This, again, is different for each case.

Final Thoughts on a Settlement Timeline

There is no established rule or formula for gauging how long it will take an accident case to settle. While the above factors should all be considered, every accident case has its own specific set of facts and circumstances that will dictate the amount of time it will take to reach a settlement.

Reaching a settlement that is fair, just, and fully compensates someone injured in a car accident takes time. You must be patient if you desire to recover the compensation you deserve. Accidents that cause severe, life-changing injuries may take some time. Attempting to quickly settle your case may be detrimental and result in you receiving less money that you should or deserve.

The best way to know how long it will take and to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve is to work with an experienced and qualified Massachusetts personal injury attorney. An injury lawyer can help you understand what needs to be done to reach a favorable settlement, build a strong case, and advocate for you throughout the personal injury process.

Charles S. Pappas
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Massachusetts injury lawyer & workers' compensation attorney serving accident victims in Webster & Framingham.