How Long Does it Take to Settle an Accident Case in Georgia?
Understand that each state is different, but here in Georgia, it depends on healing timetable for your particular injury and the complexity of the case. Here, we will provide information about what you can expect during both the settlement and the litigation phases of a case. As you read, keep in mind that these estimates are based on average amounts of time for common accident cases with typical injuries, so your case may be different.
As our hypothetical model, we will use a fairly common car accident case involving the following basic facts:
1) $4,000 in property damage
2) defendant driver is clearly at fault in a rear end collision with eyewitness testimony pinning him down.
3) Standard insurance carrier behavior as opposed to more belligerent and unrealistic claims practices demonstrated by United Auto, Safeway et al.
4) Ambulance transport and basic emergency room care with xrays and whiplash diagnosis. Ambulance: $850.
Hospital Bill: $800 (except for Atlanta Medical Center where the bill would be $2,600)
ER Physician: $300
5) Primary Care Physician follow up and three months of physical therapy with a quality physical therapy practice like Physiotherapy in Atlanta. $4,000.
6) Healing to 100% within 4 months of car accident.
This represents an optimistic and somewhat common fact pattern. Keep in mind there are endless variations and only the lucky heal up that well, that quickly.
While more than 85% of injury cases settle nationwide instead of going to trial, insurance companies in Georgia have been litigating cases more and more frequently. Geico and Liberty Mutual have become more combative over the last few years and their claims analysis is often shallow in the pre-suit phase.
That said let’s look at the timing factors more closely:
Step 1: Medical Care
It may seem obvious to state that each injury is different but because you cannot settle an injury claim in pieces, you must be done with your medical care before you make a final comprehensive demand to settle the case unless your injury is so severe that it clearly outweighs the amount of insurance involved. The first thing you will do is meet with your attorney and discuss the general plan of action for handling your particular situation. The exact timeline depends on the medical care you receive, since Mr. Simon cannot demand a certain amount from insurance companies until your medical care is completed and all records and bills have been received. During this stage, Mr. Simon will:
1. Contact the other driver’s insurance company and identify the policy limits. Once they are determined, you will discuss how the medical care is going and what the limits mean for the case.
2. Obtain your accident report
3. Interview any relevant witnesses
4. Obtain and preserve important evidence such as police dash cameras, 911 calls, photographs, and physical evidence
5. Make sure that your medical care is being billed properly through health insurance or medical payments insurance. In the absence of these safeguards, you will discuss your medical care options. Be careful because many hospitals fail to bill your health insurance, sometimes intentionally because they want 100% payment out of your settlement money instead.
6. Research any relevant case law for your particular claim
Step 2: Preparing Your Demand
After you are finished receiving medical care, Mr. Simon will request all of your medical records from your doctor. Although timing can vary, it usually takes 45-60 days for a lawyer to receive the records after this request is made, and after that it usually takes about one week for a lawyer to prepare a demand package. In a simple accident case, Mr. Simon will:
1. Decide if you need a medical narrative, which is a detailed summary from the key physician that can be useful in trial. Except in complex cases, it is usually not needed until after the demand goes out. If you lawyer tells you he had to pay a chiropractor for a narrative, it is time to call foul! Chiropractic narratives are generally worthless to insurance companies;
2. Create the demand package, including a detailed description of the relevant liability facts and a history of the injury as well as a discussion of any venue or other key issues;
3. Meet with you to discuss value expectations and goals. Your lawyer should always review the demand package with you because it is always YOUR CASE;
4. Send the demand package to the other party.
Mr. Simon will hear back from the insurance adjuster within 30-60 days, and at that point the offer and counter-offer process will start. When the first offer comes in, you should expect your lawyer to call you to discuss the next steps and adjust the ultimate goal based on the client’s wishes and the facts of the case. Mr. Simon makes a point of always keeping clients up to date on their cases’ progress, and if the other insurance company makes an appropriate settlement offer, then Mr. Simon will send a confirmation letter. It will then take about a month to execute all of the necessary documents and to receive your settlement check.
So who decides if the case settles or not? You do. Our Firm is always here to guide you, but in the end it is your case. While it is true that over 85% of cases are resolved through settlement, each case is different. We will tell you if you should litigate your case to obtain a more fair offer or verdict. Now let us take our hypothetical and imagine that the case has gone into litigation because the insurance company low balled the offer.
Step 3: Litigation
If you agree with Mr. Simon that litigation is the best path for your case, then it will take him roughly 30 days to prepare materials for your lawsuit and to file the complaint. In simple accident cases, the lawsuit will be filed in the Defendant’s County of residence, according to State law. In Georgia, the lawsuit does not officially start until the Defendant is personally served, meaning that the sheriff or an appointed server physically hands a copy of the suit to the Defendant or an adult in the household. Keep in mind that in Georgia you must sue the other driver personally, so his or her insurance company will not appear on the lawsuit (unless it is an uninsured motorist case). This is a key aspect of the law as in cases involving non-commercial drivers, it can have a depressing effect on the jury verdict.
The Defendant driver will then give the lawsuit to his or her insurance company, which will either hire a lawyer for their client or have their own in-house lawyers handle the case. Atlanta insurers like State Farm, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Geico, Nationwide, Zurich, Travelers and other companies even own entire law firms that litigate their cases, which is one reason why these companies are not hurt by litigation costs.
After the Defendant is served, he or she will have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. If they fail to give a response and do not fix this mistake within an additional 15 days, then at that point they are in default, meaning that they admit basically everything held against them in the lawsuit. This makes your case easier, although in most cases the Defendant will file an official Answer and send a long list of questions to your lawyer.
Step 4: Discovery
In the Georgia Court system, discovery is a six-month period of time in which both parties can discover information about the case through written questions called Interrogatories, requests for various documents, and requests for the other side to admit certain things.
Once you answer the written discovery, the insurance company will ask you for a deposition, which is a sworn statement you make in the presence of a court reporter. Depositions can last up to 3 or 4 hours, depending on the complexity of the case, and during this time your life will be an open book. In the meantime, our Firm will get a deposition from the Defendant (and any witnesses) and prepare medical evidence and exhibits for your case. Although it is supposed to be a six-month period, discovery can take up to 8 or 10 months.
Step 5: Preparing for Trial
If plaintiffs demand and the defendants offer are not too far apart, then they might choose to mediate their case before going to trial. A mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution where the parties present their case to a neutral mediator who cannot make a binding decision and has the task of finding common ground between the insurer and the victim.
Mediation is not required unless the Court orders it, and if the process fails then the case will continue to trial. In Georgia it can take from 10 months to 2 years to get in front of a jury, depending on the particular Judges and Counties involved. It is unusual to take more time unless the lawyer has been lazy.
Basic car accident trials in Georgia usually last for about two days, and both parties must be present at trial.
While most cases do end up settling, a fair amount are litigated and tried in Court. Not every case that can settle should settle, because if a fair settlement value is not offered, then the case should move into litigation.