According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 73% of injury lawsuits settle. However, that statistic does not account for the number of cases that settle during the insurance claim process without ever filing a lawsuit. Once these insurance claims get taken into account, nearly all injury claims end in settlement.
While you wait for your settlement, you may incur substantial medical costs and suffer disabilities that prevent you from working and paying your living expenses. You need to know how long your settlement will take so you can plan for your financial future.
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The Insurance Claims Process in Florida
Most personal injury cases begin with an insurance claim, which you file by submitting a description of your accident and related injuries along with proof of your losses.
The proof you submit will usually include the following:
- Medical records
- Doctor and hospital bills
- Wage statements and timecards
Your insurer will then assign a claims adjuster to your case, who will investigate your claim and determine whether the insurer should pay it. Keep in mind, though, that the claims adjuster works for the insurer, not you or the policyholder, so they will use every tactic possible to save the insurance company money as a result, such as:
- Denying your claim
- Denying a part of your claim
- Accepting your claim but reducing its value
Much of the time necessary to settle your claim will be spent negotiating so that you do not take a low settlement that does not cover your losses.
If you find that you cannot settle your case, you may need to file a lawsuit. A lawsuit will stop the statute of limitations from running out and pressure the insurer to make a fair offer. Insurers do not like paying lawyers for cases they intend to settle, so they tend to settle cases where it looks like you could win if taken to court.
The above is a broad description that covers almost all types of accidents, from slip and fall accidents to motorcycle accidents. However, different procedures may apply to most types of motor vehicle accidents because of Florida’s no-fault insurance rules.
Florida’s No-Fault Car Insurance System
Florida uses a no-fault auto insurance system, which requires most vehicle owners to buy personal injury protection (PIP) coverage in their auto insurance policies. Following an accident, anyone injured will file a claim with their insurer for the vehicle they were riding in.
Accident victims can pursue a claim against the at-fault driver in certain circumstances. The no-fault system allows claims against at-fault drivers for causing permanent injuries that include the following:
- Significant loss of an important bodily function
- Significant scarring and disfigurement
- Permanent injury other than scarring or disfigurement
When you file a claim after a car accident, the insurer will first need to determine whether it fits into one of the exceptions of the no-fault system. An insurer could delay your settlement if they dispute your eligibility to file a claim against its policyholder.
Time Limits Under Florida Law
Florida has a law in place that defines unfair claim settlement practices. Under this law, insurers have a few time limits when dealing with claims. For one, an insurer must acknowledge and “act promptly” whenever you file a claim or communicate with them.
The law does not define the exact amount of promptness necessary, but you should expect the insurer to attempt to contact you shortly after you file a claim and within a couple of weeks should you have questions.
Insurers must also contact you “promptly” if they require further information to process your claims. Therefore, an insurer cannot sit on your claim on the grounds that it never received copies of your medical bills. Instead, they must contact you to ask for them.
Lastly, an insurer has 30 days to decide whether to accept or deny the claim after it receives all the documentation of your losses. Bear in mind that the time frame does not start until the insurer has all the documents.
Also, note that the 30-day time limit only applies to the initial determination. If the insurer denies the claim within 30 days and your injury lawyer responds to the claim denial with additional records, you do not get another 30-day time limit. Instead, the insurer only needs to respond “promptly.”
Realistic Time Estimate To Settle a Case
Although insurers must decide on claims within 30 days of receiving proof of your losses, you should not assume you will have a settlement check exactly 30 days after your accident. Administrative delays, such as the time you need to gather and mail your records, can slow the claims process.
Additionally, insurers know where they have wiggle room in the timeline. They’ll make use of strategically planned delays to slow down your claim in the hopes that frustrating you will cause you to accept a lower settlement offer.
For example, an insurer might offer a low settlement before its 30-day deadline expires, but the offer might be so low that you cannot even cover your medical bills. Instead of accepting the offer, your lawyer counter-offers. After a few rounds of negotiations, the insurer might have eaten up several months.
In the end, you should realistically expect your claim to take several months to settle, and if you need to file a lawsuit, a settlement could take even longer.
How an Attorney Can Help Settle Your Claim Quickly
Following a car accident, your insurer will know the difficult situation you are facing. They will likely attempt to use your desperation to push you to settle for less than the value of your case.
When you have a lawyer on your side, insurers tend to avoid playing games, and they are often pushed to be a bit more responsive. Additionally, a lawyer can tell when insurers act in bad faith. Bad faith insurance lawsuits can cost an insurer a lot of money, so they try to avoid them.