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How Long Does it Take to Settle a Claim After an Automobile Accident?

On average, motorists in California and across the U.S. can anticipate being involved in motor vehicle accidents every 18 years, which means that you might expect to file an accident claim three to four times during your life. While many motor vehicle accidents only result in property damage, some cause serious injuries or death.

According to the National Safety Council, an estimated 42,339 people were killed in the U.S. and 4.8 million were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 alone. In California, Statista reports there were 3,723 traffic fatalities in 2020 and 4,161 in 2021, demonstrating a sharp year-over-year increase in deaths.

People who are injured and the surviving family members of fatal accident victims are entitled to pursue claims against the at-fault motorists who caused their collisions and injuries. If you have been involved in a motor vehicle collision or have lost your loved one, you might wonder how long it might take for your accident claim to settle. Unfortunately, there isn't a ready answer to this question since the time to settle your claim will depend on a variety of factors, including your case's complexity, the strength of the evidence showing the other party's liability, the severity of your injuries, and others.

Statistics on Resolving Tort Claims

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) researched how long it takes to dispose of various types of civil claims, including tort cases. Tort cases are civil actions that involve civil wrongs, including negligence matters involving motor vehicle accidents. The NCSC found that it takes an average of 486 days to resolve tort claims. For auto accident tort claims, 57% were settled within one year while 74% were settled or resolved at trial within 540 days.

While this provides some general guidance, the length of time required to resolve an auto accident claim through settlement or trial varies broadly based on numerous factors. To understand why claims can take some time to resolve, it is important to understand both the pre-litigation and litigation processes involved.

After being involved in an automobile accident, it is natural to wonder how long it might take to settle a claim. Unfortunately, there is not a single answer or time frame that applies to all car accident cases. Each case has unique aspects that affect how long the settlement process will take.

Factors Affecting Time Involved in Securing Settlements in California

Numerous factors can affect how long it might take to settle a personal injury claim. Some cases will involve more factors than others.

Injury Severity and Required Treatment

In many cases, medical treatment for the accident-related injuries will need to be completed before you can negotiate your settlement. This largely depends on your injury's severity and type. Since the insurance company will likely provide one payment for the cost of your medical expenses, including your past and future medical costs, it is critical to understand the extent and severity of your injuries and the treatment they will require before agreeing to accept a settlement offer.

Insurance Company and Policy

Every insurance company has its way of doing business. How long your claim might take to resolve might depend on the particular insurance company you are dealing with. Insurance: Each insurance company works differently. The particular insurance company involved in your case, as well as the type of policy involved, can affect the length of time to obtain a settlement. Some insurance companies aggressively defend against all claims to avoid paying compensation to claimants. Others are more workable and willing to negotiate to try to reach settlement agreements. Your claim might also be affected when there are several insurance companies and policies involved. Some defendants might settle faster than others, and one might decide to litigate the case through trial.

Existence of Witnesses

In some accidents, the only witnesses to what happened will be the involved motorists themselves. However, many collisions involve others who witnessed what occurred, including pedestrians, other motorists, nearby businesses and their patrons, and nearby homeowners. If witnesses saw what happened, they can provide critical information and evidence about what happened before, during, and after a collision.

Ideally, the witnesses in your case remained at the scene and provided their names and contact information to you and the responding officers. If they didn't, it might take some time for our lawyer to fully investigate your case and track down witnesses who saw what occurred and can provide important evidence to support your claim.

Need for Experts

Depending on the facts of your case, your attorney might need to work with experts to help build a strong case of liability. Experts are typically needed in complex crashes and those involving serious injuries. Some of the types of experts your attorney might need to hire include accident reconstruction experts, medical experts, engineering experts, and others. When an expert witness is involved, he or she will need time to investigate your case, analyze it, and develop and write a report giving his or her expert opinion.

Need for Filing a Formal Lawsuit

Many accident claims are resolved before a lawsuit is ever filed. However, some cases will require you to file a formal civil complaint and proceed with the litigation process before a settlement will be reached. The litigation process can be lengthy, depending on the case's complexity and other factors. In situations in which the likelihood that a verdict would exceed the at-fault party's insurance policy limits, insurance companies in California have a duty to settle when a demand is made within the policy limits, according to Reid v. Mercury Ins. Co., 220 Cal.App.4th 262 (2013) and a report by the American Bar Association.

Understanding the Pre-Litigation Process

In many cases, an auto accident claim will be settled short of formal litigation during the pre-litigation phase. Typically, claims might be resolved short of filing a formal lawsuit when the liability of the insured is clear, the issues are relatively straightforward, and the injured victim has already reached his or her maximum medical recovery through treatment. The pre-litigation phase can still take several months, however, because of the steps that will need to be completed. The process of filing a claim begins immediately after your accident, and the steps you take during that time are critical.

1. Report of the Accident

Immediately after a collision, you should check yourself and others for injuries and summon the police by calling 911. You should remain at the scene until the officer arrives. Tell the officer what happened, but do not state that you weren't injured or admit fault. The officer will write a report, and you should get a copy when the report is ready. Ask the officer how to obtain a copy of your accident report.

2. Documentation of the Accident

If you can, you should try to document what happened by gathering evidence at the accident scene. Take photographs of your vehicle and the other car, including the damage to both, their relative positions, and the other vehicle's make, model, and license plate number. You should also exchange information with the other driver and get his or her license information, insurance information, and vehicle registration information. If any witnesses saw what happened, get their names, phone numbers, email addresses, and mailing addresses. Ask them to make short statements about what they saw. Finally, you should also take pictures of other relevant details, including the weather and road conditions, nearby traffic control devices, visual obstructions, tire skid marks, and other things that might have contributed to your accident.

3. Medical Treatment

You should seek immediate medical care after your accident even if you are unsure you were injured. Many people experience shock following an accident that hides their symptoms. Getting immediate medical care helps to facilitate your recovery while also demonstrating a causal link between your collision and your injuries.

4. Retaining a Lawyer

The insurance company will likely try to contact you to try to get your story about what happened. Don't agree to talk to the other party's insurance company without the help of an attorney. Instead, you should politely decline to talk about your injuries or what happened before you speak to a lawyer. Once you hire an attorney, your lawyer can handle the communications for you.

5. Investigation

Your attorney will need time to investigate what happened and review the evidence. This process can take a few months, so getting help quickly is in your best interests.

6. Demand Letter

Once your attorney has investigated your case and valued your claim, he or she will draft a demand letter and send it to the at-fault party's insurance company. The demand letter serves as notice of your claim, your legal causes of action, the bases of your claim, and a monetary settlement demand. It serves as a starting point for negotiations. The insurance company can choose to accept your demand and settle your claim, make a counteroffer, or deny liability. If your attorney negotiates a settlement offer for you during the prelitigation phase, the insurance company will pay you. In this situation, your case will be resolved in a settlement without filing a formal lawsuit.


If your case can't be resolved in a settlement outside of court, it will have to be litigated. Your attorney will initiate a lawsuit by filing a civil complaint. Once the complaint is filed, it must be served on the other party. The defendant will then be given time to file an answer.

Once the complaint and answer have been filed, your case will go through the discovery process. During this phase, both you and the defendant must exchange evidence. The discovery process can last for months and might include interrogatories, reviews of documentary evidence, expert investigations, and depositions. During discovery, your attorney will continue settlement negotiations.

If a settlement is not reached, your case will go to trial. However, the vast majority of auto accident claims are settled before trial. If your case does go to trial, the jury will issue a verdict either in your favor or in the defendant's favor.

Get Help from An Experienced Injury Attorney

The claims process might seem overwhelming and lengthy. When you have the help of an experienced attorney, he or she can guide you through the process so that you know what to expect. Contact the Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC today at 866-966-5240 to request a free case evaluation.

Client Reviews
I have known Steven for some time now and when his services were required he jumped in and took control of my cases. I had two and they were handled with the utmost professionalism and courtesy. He went the extra mile regardless of the bumps in the road. I can not see me using any other attorney and I would recommend him to any of my family and friends. Josie A.
Steven was vital during our most trying time. He was referred by a friend after an accident that involved a family member. While he was critical and lying in the hospital, Steven was kind, patient and knowledgeable about what we were going through. Following our loss, Steven became a tough and aggressive negotiator and made sure that we receive a huge compensation. I would refer Steven in fact, this happened 2 years ago and I still speak highly of his service. Cheryl S.
Mr. Sweat is a pitbull in the courtroom as well as settlement negotiations - You can't have a better equipped attorney in your corner! It is a pleasure working as colleagues together on numerous cases. He can get the job done. Jonathan K.
Because of Steven Sweat, my medical support was taken care of. Plus, I had more money to spare for my other bills. Steven is not only an excellent personal injury lawyer, providing the best legal advice, but also a professional lawyer who goes beyond his call of duty just to help his clients! He stood up for me and helped me get through the process. I would definitely recommend. I couldn't think of any better lawyer than him. MiraJane C.
I must tell anyone, if you need a great attorney, Steve sweat is the guy! I had an awful car accident and had no idea where to turn. He had so much to deal with because my accident was a 4 car pile up. Not to mention all the other cars were behind me and they were not wanting to settle in any way! He never stopped working for me and had my best interest at heart! Audra W.
I believe I made the best choice with Steven M Sweat, Personal Injury. I was very reluctant to go forward with my personal injury claim. I had a valid claim and I needed a professional attorney to handle it. I felt so much better when I let Steven take my case. His team did everything right and I am very satisfied. Stia P.
I have to say that Steve has been exemplary! I met Steve at a point with my case that I was ready to give up. He took the time and dealt with all of my concerns. Most importantly, he was present and listened to what I was going through. He was able to turn things around, put me and my case on the right track! The results were better that expected! Highly recommend!! Cody A.