How Long Will It Take to Settle Your Personal Injury Claim?

There's settling your personal injury case quickly, then there's getting "shorted" on fair compensation.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

What if you have a personal injury case, and you don't want it to drag on for months, or even years? You might wonder whether you can just settle your case fast even if you have to accept less money to do it. The answer is yes, but that doesn't mean it's a good strategy.

You can settle a personal injury claim quickly, but that usually means taking less money. The important consideration is how much you'll be giving up. Let's look at why settlement might be taking longer than usual, and why you should probably think twice before taking a quick settlement.

Why Is It Taking So Long to Settle My Personal Injury Case?

There are three main reasons why the timeline of a personal injury claim can drag out:

  • there are problematic legal or factual issues
  • the case involves a significant amount of money, or
  • you have not reached a point of maximum medical improvement.

In these situations, your case is simply going to take some time to settle, unless you are prepared to take pennies on the dollar in order to resolve it. Let's take a closer look.

Problematic Issue With the Case

What kind of problems are we talking about? The value of a personal injury case is usually driven by two main factors: liability (who was at fault) and damages (how badly was the plaintiff injured).

If liability is hard to prove (for example, the parties and multiple witnesses all say different things), then the insurance adjuster is not likely to make a reasonable settlement offer until the plaintiff's lawyer has demonstrated a willingness to fight—by filing a personal injury lawsuit and hiring liability experts to show exactly how the defendant was at fault. If there are legal issues in the case (i.e., the insurer believes that you have no legal right to sue), then it is unlikely the insurer will make any significant offer on the case until a judge has ruled on your right to sue.

Alternatively, there may be problems with damages. For example, the treating physicians may be unsure that the defendant's negligence caused the plaintiff's injury. The insurer is not going to make a reasonable settlement offer until it is satisfied that your lawyer can produce a doctor to testify that the defendant's action (or inaction) caused your injuries.

The Case Involves "Big Money"

Another factor that can delay settlement is if the case involves significant damages (a lot of money). Insurers simply will not pay big money on a settlement until they have done their due diligence. That means investigating every aspect of the case until they are convinced that:

  • they don't have a good defense to your claim
  • your injuries are as severe as you say they are, and
  • they cannot attack your credibility.

Further, sometimes insurers will delay settlement on a big case simply to see if the plaintiff will give up and accept less money. Some claimants cannot wait very long for compensation. Insurers know this and will try to wait it out. Get tips on negotiating the best personal injury settlement.

You Have Not Reached Maximum Medical Improvement

Another legitimate reason why settlement might take a long time is that you are still receiving medical treatment. If you can afford to wait, you never want to settle a personal injury case until you have reached a point of maximum medical improvement (MMI) from your injuries.

MMI means that you are as good as you are going to get, and you and your lawyer know how to value your case. If you are still treating, the full nature and extent of your injuries (and their impact on your life) isn't as clear as it needs to be.

Settling For Short Money

What if you recognize that your case could be worth more if you waited for the proper settlement, but you need the money now. How do you determine what you should settle for?

There are no hard and fast rules about short settlements. The insurance adjuster's settlement offer might be 30 to 40 percent of what you might be offered if your case makes it all the way to the eve of a court trial. If you have a personal injury case, and are thinking that you just want to settle it fast without getting involved in a long litigation process, you should still contact a personal injury lawyer for tailored advice on the risks of a quick settlement.

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