Ending your lawsuit from a settlement is usually much quicker than waiting for the end of a trial. A trial may not even get started for a year after the accident and can drag on for a very long time. Once you have received a reasonable offer and agreed to a settlement, you, unfortunately, won’t get paid right away.
But there is a timeline you can depend on, as the process of receiving a settlement check follows a certain pattern. Here is a brief outline of what will happen so you know what to expect. If you are going through this process, you should always feel free to ask a personal injury attorney what to expect.
Settlement Check Timeline
There aren’t many legal requirements when it comes to auto accident settlements in Arizona. There is the statutory legal requirement to file a lawsuit within two years unless one of the parties was a minor at the time of the accident. In those cases, the minor can wait until adulthood before filing a lawsuit. After that, there are no legal timelines, but you can expect the necessary tasks to be taken care of in a reasonable amount of time.
Endorsing the Final Documents
After agreeing to a settlement, you will need to sign paperwork which outlines the terms and conditions of the agreement. You should sign the papers in front of a notary public, who is an official but unbiased witness.
Your paperwork will look like a contract and may be very short or several pages. You need to make sure you understand the terms of the agreement because one of the most important parts is the release. The release is so important because once it is executed, you are releasing the other party from any other present or even future liability when it comes to the accident.
Your attorney can help make sure that the settlement is really what you want and doesn’t ask for anything unfair; some attorneys deliberately make the paperwork complicated or slip in clauses which give their clients an extra advantage. Make sure you read through the paperwork carefully; set out a time where you can read with no interruptions or time constraints.
You probably will feel a sense of relief that you have come to an agreement, but you need to keep in mind how final the release is. If you haven’t taken all your current and future expenses into account, you can’t ask to be compensated later.
The Insurance Company Processes the Release and Cuts the Check
Once the insurance company receives your paperwork, it has a legal obligation to process it in a reasonable amount of time and send you your check. The check will be sent directly to the law firm representing you and should be made out to you and the attorney. Processing and mailing the check usually takes about three weeks but may be delayed if there are problems with the paperwork. Your attorney can find out what the problem is if there is a delay in receiving your check.
Your Attorney Receives and Deposits the Settlement Check
Attorneys keep a special bank account where they can keep client monies and are not allowed to use for personal business. These are called IOLTA accounts, which stands for Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts. IOLTA accounts help make sure your money is protected and your attorney is following the rules.
The first thing your attorney will do after receiving your check is to place the funds in that account to keep it safe while it clears. Depending on the size of the check, it can take a few days or longer than a week for the check to clear and the funds to be made available.
Liens Are Paid
After you have been in an accident, you are the one who is ultimately responsible for paying your bills. Your settlement is compensation to make up for those losses. While you were waiting for your settlement, there were probably liens filed in the case. This is how providers can make sure they will get paid while still providing you the treatment you need without delay.
Sometimes you sign permission for the lien to be placed on the account, while other liens are statutory, such as when you have a government health plan. Sometimes the provider files a lien with the County Recorder’s Office to make sure the bill is taken into account in the final settlement.
The most significant liens usually are from medical providers who continued to provide your care while waiting for the outcome of the case. Even if you had a healthcare plan, Arizona law only allows certain kinds of health plans to be reimbursed or to reduce costs. Whether or not the provider will reduce costs may depend on the size of the settlement. Not all medical claims have to be paid from the settlement, but anything with a lien does.
Your insurance company will probably be reimbursed as a matter of course. There may also be liens from other expenses incurred directly because of the accident.
Throughout the course of your recovery, you have probably paid for visits to doctors, physical therapists, and other medical providers. You probably needed medicine, a rental car, and your vehicle probably needed repairs or replacement. Unless you paid for all of these expenses out of pocket, you are probably liable to the person or entity who did pay for all of those expenses.
Finally, if you have unpaid child support or other state debts, the State will make sure to take that out of your settlement proceeds. Any money you owe to the State must be paid before your settlement can be processed.
Legal Fees Are Paid
Most personal injury attorneys wait until you have been paid before they receive any money in your case. Even then, they don’t get paid until the liens have been deducted from the total. Your attorney will help you understand at the initial meeting what kinds of legal fees to expect, and will let you know during the course of the case if there is an unexpected, extraordinary expense.
Those kinds of expenses might not affect your total at all, though, if you entered into an agreement with your attorney that your legal fees would be a set percentage of the proceeds no matter what kinds of expenses were actually incurred. By law, attorneys must be completely transparent when charging clients for work on every case. Your fees will be itemized and provided to you if you are charged. If you have any questions, you should ask right away.
Legal fees cover a wide variety of expenses, including copying, attorney hours, and filing fees. Court reporting and deposition fees may need to be paid while parties gather information, your attorney will need to pay for any other fees related to gathering medical records and other documents. Your attorney may hire expert witnesses who have skills in accident reconstruction, or medical experts to prove that your injuries are long term.
While preparing your case, your attorney will need to spend hours examining all the documents and preparing in case the proceedings become adversarial. The best preparation will let the other side know that you have enough evidence to win in case they want to go to trial.
You Receive Your Check
Once all these other steps take place, the amount left is yours. Extra money is built into the settlement offer in order to ensure that you will be able to receive money after the other expenses are paid. The last step of the settlement check process is when the attorney writes your check for the balance of the settlement proceeds.
The attorney must be thorough when going through the other steps, so it can take up to six weeks before your final check is written and mailed. Make sure to keep your contact information up to date, because the check will be mailed to your last known home address.
Even if the settlement seems relatively straightforward, there are a lot of steps and you don’t want to miss anything important. If you have been in an accident, it doesn’t cost anything to ask an attorney questions about your case. Skousen, Gulbrandsen & Patience PLC has been helping Mesa, AZ residents for over 50 years and has the experience to make a difference in your case. Call today for a free consultation.