The typical Maryland car accident case that results in injury and corresponding personal injury claims for one or more of the occupants of the vehicles is ultimately resolved through settlement. There are really only two ways that an auto accident injury claim can favorably resolve: settlement or trial. A settlement is a negotiated agreement with an insurance company, or, in rare instances, with an uninsured driver. Personal injury settlements are broadly grouped into two categories. A pre-suit settlement is one that is achieved through negotiation with an insurance company, wherein favorable and agreeable settlement terms are achieved, without the necessity of filing a lawsuit. Many cases are also settled after a lawsuit is filed through mediation, or a court-ordered pre-trial conference, or through the ongoing dialogue between the litigants.
The statistics vary a little bit from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the research shows that in all jurisdictions, the overwhelming number of cases, in excess of nine out of 10 cases, settle before trial.
The terminal event for a personal injury claim resolved by settlement is the signing of a settlement agreement, or a release from liability, or both.The second way a personal injury claim resolves is through trial- whether in front of a judge or a jury. The operative documents here are not a settlement agreement but rather a verdict sheet and the judgment. If one is successful at trial, the defendant has 30 days to appeal- which may in many instances delay payment of the judgment.
Since most cases are resolved by way of a settlement I'd like to focus on the time frames as well as the procedures involved in that process. Every personal injury settlement is going to involve certain steps:
- The signing of a release and any other settlement documents or agreements
- The review and signing of a distribution sheet prepared by your personal injury attorney showing the amount received and the ultimate destination for those funds
- The issuance of a settlement draft by the settling party and the receipt of it by your accident attorney
- A distribution to the injured person of their share of the proceeds
Frankly, there are no rules about the timing of these events, or deadlines by which they must occur. In our experience, some general time frames apply to most cases. It's certainly reasonable to expect an insurance company to send a release and settlement paperwork within 10 days of the agreement to settle. Generally, an insurance company should issue a draft or check within 10 business days of their receipt of the signed release. These are general observations and guidelines that apply to most situations -but individual results may vary depending on a number of factors.
If a third party, such as a health insurance company, has asserted a lien on the settlement proceeds a resolution of that lien is required before funds may be disbursed. This may delay the settlement process.
If the injury victim is a recipient of Medicare or Medicaid, those programs’ interests must be addressed before any settlement proceeds can be dispersed. This will also delay the settlement process, and in some instances, significantly delay the settlement process. I’d suggest one thing to keep in mind if you are an individual waiting for settlement proceeds. In the typical situation involving a contingency fee contract, your personal injury lawyer is not going to receive his or her fee until you receive your settlement funds. The interests of your attorney in a contingency fee arrangement are identical to your interests. A personal injury lawyer has every business incentive to work diligently to address and remove all obstacles in order to get the settlement funds disbursed as quickly as possible. They do not get their money until you do.