If another person’s negligence caused you injury, you have a right to seek compensation for the expenses you incurred. You have a right to compensation that covers medical expenses, lost wages, and payment for your physical and emotional pain and suffering from a relevant liability insurance policy held by the at-fault party.
How long do you have to accept a settlement offer? While insurance companies often attach arbitrary deadlines to the amount of time a claimant has to consider a settlement offer, you have until the statute of limitations expires on your case. Here is a look at the statute of limitations and the time it takes for settlement negotiations and agreements to resolve.
What Is a Settlement?
You can recover compensation in three ways: through direct payment of the claim, through a negotiated settlement, or through litigation after filing a personal injury lawsuit. One of these ways the negotiated settlement is by far the most common way of resolving a personal injury claim, with around 95 percent of all personal injury lawsuits resolve through a pre-trial settlement.
A settlement agreement is a legally binding agreement between the claimant and the at-fault party’s insurer in which the claimant agrees to accept compensation for the expenses and impacts of their injury that is lower than the value they demanded through their claim. The claimant agrees not to pursue the case in court in exchange for this compensation.
The settlement process can begin as soon as the claim is filed against the at-fault party’s liability insurance policy and a claims adjuster assigned to the case has evaluated the claim. In most states, the claims adjuster must respond as promptly as possible to the claim, generally within 20 to 30 days.
Initial settlement offers are typically a fraction of the claim’s stated value, meaning that your attorney will need to negotiate with the adjuster for them to increase their offer to a level that you believe will fairly compensate you for your injuries. A settlement agreement can happen at any time during the claims process.
Why Would the Insurance Provider Offer a Settlement Instead of Fighting the Case in Court?
Like assigning claims adjusters to evaluate claims to reduce or eliminate high payouts on claims, insurance providers look to settle claims out-of-court to avoid the expenses associated with litigation, including the payment of defense attorneys to argue their position in court.
There is also uncertainty about the outcome and how much a judge or jury will decide the company needs to pay for their insured’s liability. Depending on the type of accident and the parties involved, litigation can also generate negative publicity for the insurer and the at-fault party.
Why Would the Claimant Accept a Settlement Instead of Fighting for Their Claim’s Full Value in Court?
While settlement negotiations can take place at any time after the claim is filed—even after the trial has begun—the process of reaching a settlement agreement and receiving compensation as a result of that agreement is generally much shorter than waiting out a long trial process.
While the claimant is waiting for their compensation, their bills and expenses continue to pile up. One of the important services of a personal injury attorney is to educate their client on how their claims are valued and what constitutes fair compensation so the client can consider an offer needed to ensure that the settlement reflects their best interests.
What Is the Statute of Limitations and How Does It Impact Settlements?
The statute of limitations is a legal deadline that is added to the laws of each state and governs how long the claimant has to file a lawsuit. There is no standard time for a statute of limitations, and they vary by state. Most states’ personal injury statute of limitations is between one and four years. However, Missouri claimants typically have five years to file their claim in court. Claimants in Illinois have two years to file a personal injury lawsuit.
If most personal injury claims are resolved by settlement, does the statute of limitations even matter?
Allowing the statute of limitations to expire on your claim will almost always result in the loss of the ability to use the civil court system to seek compensation from an insurance provider who fails to pay the claim. Consider it a legal consequence, if you will, if the claims adjuster does not, in good faith, attempt to negotiate a settlement that satisfies the claimant’s right to fair compensation for injuries incurred as a result of their insured’s liability.
Here is the important part to understand: If you no longer have the ability to litigate the case due to the statute of limitations, the insurance carrier is no longer under any obligation to address the claim, and they no longer face the legal consequence of litigation for failing to resolve the claim.
You typically have until the date the statute of limitations expires on the claim to accept an offered settlement if you haven’t filed a lawsuit in court. If your lawsuit is filed, you have until the court decides on the case.
The Job of a Personal Injury Attorney in Ensuring the Statute of Limitations Has Been Met
The experienced personal injury lawyer that you hire has many jobs to do on your claim. They establish the claim’s value based on factors such as the availability of insurance resources that provide liability coverage, the severity of the injury, and the various types of expenses that were incurred due to the at-fault party’s negligence.
They communicate the details of the accident and the insured’s liability to the insurance provider and manage communication with the claims adjuster to work on a settlement. They have their legal team help them gather the evidence, witness testimony, and documentation needed to show liability and the financial and psychological costs associated with the claim. They handle the court process, including filing and responding to motions, jury selection, deposing witnesses, and much more.
The absolute cornerstone to both the success of your claim and protection of your right to seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury, however, relies on their ability to manage the timing of the claims process to ensure that your lawsuit is filed before the deadline.
However, they can only protect this right if they have enough time going into the claims process to properly investigate the claim and develop a firm understanding of their claimant’s needs. In other words, claimants are responsible for protecting their right to file a claim by speaking with an attorney as soon as possible rather than waiting until days or weeks before the deadline is set to expire.
Can You Refuse a Settlement Offer?
Insurance companies and the claims adjusters who work for them use several tactics to devalue claims. One common tactic is to tell the claimant that they have to accept the lowball first offer, or they will lose out on the opportunity to obtain compensation for their claim.
This simply isn’t true. If the insurance provider fails to make an offer that fairly compensates you for your injury, you can decline the offer because agreeing to it will require you to sign documents that prevent you from seeking any more compensation for the claim from the at-fault party or their insurer. However, care must be taken when declining the offer to not end the negotiation process with your refusal.
An attorney can communicate your rejection of the offer and make a counteroffer to keep these conversations going.
What About Offers that Feature Deadlines?
Another common tactic that insurance claims adjusters use when making settlement offers is to place an arbitrary deadline on the offer and tell the claimant that they must decide by that date or the offer will go away. While your attorney will certainly communicate promptly with the claims adjuster about your offer, the only deadline that will take away your right to seek fair compensation for your claim is the statute of limitations.
Considerations When Deciding Whether to Accept a Settlement Offer
Settlement agreements are almost always final, even if the claimant doesn’t understand the full ramifications of their agreement. This reality is why the claimant needs to have the guidance of an experienced personal injury attorney while considering the offer.
Some considerations that must be made as you determine whether the settlement is fair include:
- Does the offer cover all of your medical expenses? Attorneys will wait until the patient’s condition has stabilized and they have made the maximum recovery their physician expects them to make, even if their injury and associated complications require additional treatment. This generally gives the claimant a good idea of the totality of the expenses they’ve already incurred and the presence of permanent injuries that will require additional medical expenses in the future.
- Does the settlement offer cover other expenses, such as lost wages, permanent loss of earning capacity, and any property damage sustained in the accident caused by the at-fault party’s carelessness or recklessness?
- Does the settlement provide additional compensation for the psychological impacts of your injury, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress?
- Is the offer valued highly enough for you to pay your attorney’s fees and the bills associated with your injury and still have compensation for yourself? Your attorney is paid on a contingent fee basis. This means that you are not required to pay anything upfront for your attorney’s services, and you will not receive bills for those services while your claim is active. Instead, you enter into a contingent fee agreement at the start of the claims process. A percentage of any compensation received for the claim is designated as payment for your attorney. When the claim is resolved, the compensation is sent directly to the attorney, and they receive their payment. They account for their costs when they value the claim.
- Do you have the financial and emotional ability to continue fighting for a higher level of compensation? The personal injury claims process can be long and difficult. Many claimants accept a lower amount of compensation to complete the process and go on with their lives. While this is understandable, it is also essential that your attorney assists you in understanding the permanence of this decision and how it can impact you in the future.
How Long Does It Take to Receive Payment After Accepting a Settlement Offer?
After a settlement agreement has been reached, it can take several weeks to obtain your money. Once you’ve determined that an offer has been made on your claim that you feel fairly compensates your injuries and losses, your attorney will communicate your acceptance of the offer to the insurance provider.
A settlement agreement will be provided that notes the legal issues that are resolved by the agreement, the rights and obligations of the parties involved in the agreement, and how payment is to be made, as well as a release from future liability on the matter.
You must sign the legal agreement in front of a notary public. The attorneys involved in a case will file a motion to dismiss the legal action and instead submit the settlement agreement for the judge’s approval and issuance of an Order of Settlement.
The insurance company will send your payment to your attorney, who will deposit the funds in an escrow account to keep them separate from your own. From this account, they will help you satisfy any medical liens placed on the award and will deduct their payment. You will receive the remainder of the funds.