After your car accident, you may be in a hurry to receive compensation to replace your car, cover your medical expenses and replace your lost wages. However, the length of time your claim takes depends on the insurance company and whether you can reach a fair settlement or must take your case to court. 

Here is the timeline your case may follow, depending on your circumstances. 

Reporting the accident

After any collision involving $1,000 or more in damages, drivers have five days to report the accident. This report will be important as evidence for your claim whether you settle or go to court. 

Filing a claim with the insurance company

The insurance company may immediately offer a settlement. If the amount is adequate to cover your losses, you may want to accept it. However, you will want to carefully evaluate and answer the following questions: 

  • How much was each party at fault? 
  • Do you have evidence to show fault and the amount of damages you are claiming? 
  • How much are your car repairs and medical bills? 
  • Will you require future medical treatment or ongoing care? 
  • Have you missed work due to your injuries? 
  • Have you suffered emotionally and physically because of the accident? 
  • How much insurance coverage does the at-fault party have? 

The amount of insurance coverage may play a major role in the decision to accept or reject a settlement offer. If the at-fault party has only the mandatory minimum insurance coverage, the limit is $25,000 for your injury expenses, or $50,000 for everyone in the accident who sustained injuries. Only $25,000 is available to cover property damage. This may not be nearly enough to cover your medical bills and replace your car, let alone cover your other damages. 

If you agree to a settlement, you are not likely to be able to file a lawsuit later, even if you discover your medical bills and other damages are greater than you initially thought. 

Suing the at-fault party

Filing a lawsuit is likely to take much longer. You may not see a resolution for many months or even a year or more. The process begins when you file the complaint. You must serve a copy of the complaint on the at-fault party, and that can take a few weeks or months, depending on how hard it is to locate him or her. The defendant typically has a month to file a response to the complaint unless he or she files a motion to dismiss the case, which can add days or weeks. 

Discovery is often what drags out the litigation process. You and the defendant request information from each other to use as evidence in building your cases. This usually takes a few months, but if the case is complex, it could take a year or longer. The defendant could drag it out further by filing a motion to resolve the lawsuit without going to trial. 

If you have significant evidence of fault, the defendant and/or the insurance company may attempt to negotiate a settlement with you and avoid a trial. Consider whether you are likely to receive a larger award by going to court as well as whether you will be likely to collect the full judgment if you win. 

The trial itself will probably only last a day or two. However, keep in mind that the defendant may appeal the case and drag it out for years.