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How Long Does a Car Accident Settlement Take?

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There is no way to know for sure how long any individual personal injury claim will take to settle for a car accident. In the state of California, insurance companies are required to adhere to specific timeframes when it comes to car accident payouts. They must acknowledge having revived the claim within 15 days, process the claim in the following 40 days, and payout within the next 30 days. However, sometimes car accident payouts are rejected for being inadequate which can result in further negotiations followed by a claim going to trial if a settlement can’t be reached. In such cases, pretrial negotiations and the subsequent trial can take an average of six months to three years. The length of each case comes with its own unique variables and challenges that affect the overall timeline. Some of the many factors that contribute to the length of a case include but are not limited to:

  • The amount of treatment needed
  • The number of parties involved
  • Whether anything is being disputed
  • The level of cooperation between the parties
  • The complexity of the situation


What Does the Data Say About the Average Personal Injury Settlement Timeline

Unfortunately, many of the official studies done on the length of personal injury cases only account for the litigation process and start the clock at the date the car accident lawsuit is filed. This does not account for the fact that the majority of cases related to car accidents are settled out of court. The statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit is two years from the date of the injury but reaching a settlement can often be delayed when car accident claims are not filed immediately after the accident. Once a claim is filed, the litigation process can be very time consuming with estimates indicating that it can take up to 3 years after an accident occurs before a settlement is reached. This is one of the main reasons most attorneys and insurance companies try to avoid it. Studies have shown that personal injury lawsuits often take around two years to resolve after being filed.


How Do Car Accident Settlement Timelines Compare to Personal Injury?

There are many different kinds of personal injury claims that all come with their own procedures and variables. Car accident cases can sometimes take less time to resolve than other personal injury claims due to the fact that determining liability and damages can sometimes be more straightforward. However, the duration of the car accident claim can be impacted dramatically by the extent of injuries and if there are any complications when determining fault.


What You Should Do After a Car Accident to Expedite the Settlement Process

While there are some time consuming factors that cannot be avoided, there are also things that victims in a car accident can do to expedite the process.

  • Get as much information as possible from the other driver at the time of the accident
  • Take photos at the scene of the area and the vehicles
  • Get the names and contact information of any witnesses
  • Get police report information
  • Seek medical care immediately
  • Speak to a personal injury attorney


What Factors Impact a Car Accident Settlement Timeline?

There are many factors that can have an affect on how long it takes to settle a car accident claim. Many of these factors pertain to the injuries sustained and how well the parties involved cooperate to reach a fair settlement.

Accident Severity

The more severe the accident, the more severe the injuries are likely to be. There is also a chance of there being multiple parties or property damage beyond the vehicles involved. If the accident was severe enough to involve fatalities, this adds another layer to the case that can increase the timeline as well.

Extent of Injuries

Minor injuries generally require simple short term treatment that results in a full recovery. More severe injuries, or multiple injuries to different parts of the body may require a more complex treatment plan or surgery. If there is permanent disability or lifelong treatment needed, then estimated future medical bills will need to be calculated and negotiated as well.

The Compensation Demand

More often than not, the insurance company will try to offer much less than the initial demand, regardless of what the amount is. Because of this, it is common practice to ask for much more than the claim is actually worth in order to negotiate down to a fair settlement. However, if the initial demand is too high, it can prolong the negotiation process and prompt the insurance company to insist on more evidence of your damages.

Insurance Coverage

The insurance company cannot pay more than the maximum amount of the policy. If the policy limits are too low, you may need to explore other avenues of seeking compensation for your injuries. If you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage on your own policy, you can open a claim with them. Or if the other driver has personal assets, you can file a lawsuit against them directly. These things can increase the length of your timetable considerably.

Parties Willingness to Negotiate and Compromise

Whether a case is settled quickly or is drawn out often comes down to the people involved. Insurance companies will sometimes try to utilize stall tactics to run out the clock or frustrate the plaintiff into dropping the case. Sometimes a plaintiff may not be willing to compromise and negotiate for a lower settlement when the insurance refuses to agree to the demand amount. These things can cause delays and a much longer process. If the parties are able to cooperate and work together to find a resolution, it can speed up the process a great deal.

How Quickly Fault is Determined

Sometimes, it is obvious that the at fault driver was entirely to blame for the accident occurring. But sometimes, the details of the situation may be a bit more complicated. If there is any question of liability, it can take extra time to sort through the evidence and determine what percentage of fault each of the parties holds. In California, the maximum amount that a plaintiff can recover may be reduced by the amount of fault that they share for the accident. If the parties disagree with the findings, more time must be taken to resolve the dispute. The insurance company may try to deny liability altogether, requiring additional proceedings and possibly even litigation.

Quality of Evidence

The stronger the evidence, the stronger the claim. If there is clear video footage of the accident and a police report documenting that the defendant accepted full blame for what happened, then a lot of time can be saved on arguing liability and the facts of loss. However, if there is no proof of what happened, and the parties are giving contradicting statements, it can take much longer to sort things out.


What is the Process That Follows a Car Accident in California?

The exact steps involved in a personal injury case for a motor vehicle accident may vary depending on the details of the situation. However, the common outline is generally:

  1. Gather evidence and information at the scene
  2. Seek medical attention for any injuries
  3. Hire a personal injury attorney
  4. Open insurance claims
  5. Handle any property damage
  6. Finish medical treatment
  7. Provide evidence of additional damages
  8. Submit demand letter to insurance
  9. Negotiate settlement

If the case must be taken into litigation, a complaint must be served and answered. Discovery will take place, and the parties may or may not need to go to trial.

Seek Medical Attention

It is always important to see a medical professional after a car accident. Due to things like shock and adrenaline, you may not realize that you are injured right away or feel the full extent. Furthermore, if you open a personal injury claim and there is a gap between when the accident occurred and when you first sought treatment, the insurance company may use that to question the validity of your claims.

Initial Investigation

Your attorney will handle much of the investigation process, but they may require additional information from you. Evidence gathered at this point may include:

  • Police reports
  • Accident scene photos
  • Witness statements
  • Ambulance records
  • Surveillance videos
  • Pay stubs and bank statements
  • DMV records
  • Insurance policy information
  • Relevant laws and precedents

Initial Settlement Offer

Oftentimes, the insurance company will try to make an initial settlement offer right away. This is almost always far less than the claim is actually worth. Do not agree to anything, do not sign anything, and do not take any money at this point. If this offer is made after you have retained an attorney, they will handle the situation themselves. Sometimes, the offer will come immediately after the other driver reports the accident and before you have had a chance to hire a lawyer. You do not have to speak with the insurance company or answer their calls. Once you have an attorney, they will send a letter of representation to the insurance company informing them that all communication must go through the law firm.

Demand Letter & Settlement Negotiations

Once you have finished treatment for your injuries, or established what ongoing treatment will be needed, your attorney will draft the demand letter. This will include a full account of:

  • The facts of the accident
  • The resulting injuries
  • The liability of the defendant
  • The treatments undergone
  • The value of economic damages
  • The value of non-economic damages
  • The value of future damages

This letter will generally give a time frame in which a response is expected and a willingness to take the matter to court if necessary. The insurance company will generally respond with a denial or counteroffer and the negotiation process will begin.

Filing Lawsuit

If a settlement cannot be reached, you may need to go to litigation. Your attorney will file the claim with the court and have the complaint served to the defendant. The defendant must respond to the complaint within 30 days. At this point, dates and deadlines imposed by the court will have an impact on the pace and overall timeline of the proceedings.


Discovery is similar to the initial investigation in that it involves the collection of facts and evidence. Discovery during the litigation process may be a bit more in depth and involve official recorded statements and depositions. Both sides also have the option to involve experts such as medical professionals to review and explain the evidence provided. Discovery can take anywhere from a few months to well over a year depending on the complexity of the case.


The parties can agree to a settlement at any point in the case. Negotiations can be quick and simple, or the most time consuming and complex part of the process. Most of the time, it is preferable to settle out of court, and the reluctance to go to litigation can motivate the parties to compromise and find a fair middle ground.


In order to facilitate a smoother and more cooperative negotiation, the parties may decide to go to mediation. This can also be decided for them by the court if there is no other way to resolve the matter. Mediation involves both parties presenting their case to a neutral third party who then guides them through the negotiation process.


If there is no other way to resolve the case, it may be necessary to go to trial. The court will schedule a date for the parties to present their case to a judge or a jury. The parties and their witnesses will be able to give testimony and the attorneys will be given the chance to cross examine them. Once everything has been presented, the judge or jury will deliberate and come to a decision. Depending on the amount of information and evidence, the trial could be done in a day, or it could take over a month.


If any of the parties involved disagrees with the decision made by the court, they may have the option to appeal. The appeals process can take up to a year and can be repeated if the parties still have cause to do so.


Contact Mesriani Law Group if You Need an Expert Car Accident Lawyer

Settling a personal injury claim can be a long and arduous process. It is not something that anyone should have to face alone, especially when trying to recover from a car accident. Having a personal injury attorney takes the burden and stress off of you so that you can focus on healing and getting back to your life. Our firm is dedicated to the best interests of our clients, and we work tirelessly to ensure that they receive compensation as swiftly as possible. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by someone else’s negligence, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.


Car Accident Settlement Timeline FAQs

Why do lawyers take so long to settle a case?

There are many steps that must be taken when handling a personal injury claim. There are documents that must be filed and requests that must be sent. Many of these steps cannot be taken until others are completed. This also involves a lot of waiting for responses from the other party, the insurance companies, medical providers, law enforcement, and agencies like the DMV. It can be frustrating, but it is important that everything is done correctly in order to have a strong case.

What is pain and suffering worth?

In the state of California, there is no cap on non-economic damages that can be claimed for a motor vehicle accident. The only exception is that a plaintiff who was driving with no insurance cannot recover non-economic damages at all. Pain and suffering is evaluated on a case by case basis according to the details of each specific situation.

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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