Settlement – Timing and Deadlines
The statutory deadline for filing a lawsuit in a personal injury case is three years after the collision occurs. If the accident results in fatal injury, the claim becomes a case for wrongful death benefits. This specific type of claim is governed by statute, and the lawsuit filing deadline is two years from the date of accident.
The timing of initial presentation and negotiation of injury claims varies considerably with every case. As a general rule, it is best to settle your case after you have been released from all medical care. This approach allows you to ensure that all injuries and medical treatment are considered at the time of settlement. This is the safest and most common approach.
In cases involving severe injury, it is occasionally wise to consider settlement options much earlier in the case. For example, most health insurance plans have a legal right of reimbursement and they can collect reimbursement directly from your settlement proceeds. If the at-fault driver does not have high coverage, or if we are limited to just one or two automobile liability insurance policies, we may see that the available insurance coverage is less than the likely verdict range of the case.
Further, since the amount of the health insurance reimbursement claim depends on the amount of health care benefits paid up to the time of settlement, it is often wise to present a forceful demand for disclosure and payment of all liability insurance early in the case. If the responsible driver does not have significant personal wealth, real estate, or other assets, and if the liability insurance is limited, early settlement allows early payment of the health insurance lien claim. If you are able to pay the health insurance carrier before they have paid the lion’s share of bills, you may pay a much lower reimbursement lien amount to the health insurance carrier. Simply put, in cases involving severe injury, we often net the accident victim much more money by settling before all medical care is concluded.
In cases involving chronic injury requiring medical care extending beyond the three-year suit-filing deadline, it is wise to explore settlement options before the patient concludes medical care. Some victims will always be under medical care. Thus, it is impossible to wait until medical treatment is concluded before settling the case or bringing the matter to trial. In these cases, medical experts and vocational rehabilitation experts are hired to prepare a life care plan. This is a very detailed report that documents the treating physicians’ prediction and itemization of all future care expected for the patient over the balance of the victim’s lifetime. Vocational rehabilitation specialists and economists then work to show the true cost of all future medical needs and all other costs associated with adapting the patient’s home and lifestyle to his or her injuries. The economic expert then reduces the list of anticipated future costs to a present monetary value. This chain of evidence is required to support any claim for payment of future medical needs.
Severe and catastrophic injury cases should only be handled by experienced attorneys. It is essential that the evidence presented would be qualified and accepted as admissible at trial. Further, careful selection of trial experts and careful presentation of this evidence will help to overcome anticipated insurance challenges and ensure that these large monetary claims are properly honored and paid.