How Long Does It Take to Settle a Car Accident Lawsuit?

5-7 minute read | Published: March 28, 2024 | Updated: April 17, 2024

✅ Verified & Reviewed

Car accident lawsuit

If you’re a victim in a car accident, you may be able to  recover compensation from the at-fault party. This will of course depend on the laws in your state, how badly you were hurt, and whether or not you shared any of the blame for the accident.

There are two ways you can get compensation:

1. Sue the at-fault party and take them to court

2. Negotiate a settlement with the at-fault driver’s insurer

Oftentimes, car accident cases are resolved through a fair settlement. It’s simpler and faster to resolve your claim when you go with this option. The at-fault driver will agree to compensate you for the damages and in return, you release them (including the at-fault party) from further liability.

The Car Accident Settlement Process

There are various steps involved in the car accident settlement process and each one could take days, weeks or even months.

But to give you a general idea, here’s what happens:

  • First, you’ll need to take photos and videos of the accident scene.
  • Get the contact information of the other driver and witnesses.
driver contact information
  • You’ll need to report the accident to the authorities (police) and to the insurance companies of the drivers involved.
  • Get yourself checked and treated for your injuries. If you had passengers in the vehicle during the accident, they need to be checked as well.
  • Gather the police and medical reports, hospital bills, car repair bills, and documents that can be used as evidence to boost your case.
  • Write a demand letter to the insurance company.
  • Negotiate with the insurance company.
  • Accept the final offer or file a lawsuit if the offer is not good enough.

Filing a lawsuit protects your rights and it sends a message to the insurance company that they shouldn’t take your case lightly. They may be more willing to give you a better offer once they realize you’re taking them to court.

However, filing court paperwork can be a complicated process, so it’s important that you have a lawyer who has extensive courtroom experience.

How Long Does a Car Accident Lawsuit Take?

The legal proceedings for each car accident case may vary, but here’s the typical timeline of a personal injury lawsuit:

Step 1: The plaintiff (you) files and serves the complaint.

Filing a complaint with the court takes only a few minutes but it’s not as simple as that. You have to gather facts, evidence and information for your complaint, which could take days or even weeks.

Once the complaint has been filed, the defendant needs to be served a copy of it which will be difficult to do if this person is hard to track down.

Step 2: The defendant responds to the complaint.

Usually the defendant will have 20 calendar days to respond to a lawsuit. It gives them the chance to respond to the plaintiff’s allegations as well as list out any counterclaims.

Step 3: Discovery

Both parties will request and share information that could be used as evidence during the trial. Discovery takes several months to a year, particularly if there are disagreements about access to specific information.

Step 4: The case settles

A case can be settled as soon as the complaint is filed, or it can also be settled during or after trial. As is typical in many cases, it may be settled after one side (usually the at-fault side) learns of evidence that can potentially decide the case, which is after discovery is complete.

For instance, if the defendant denies fault but video evidence obtained during discovery shows they are in fact responsible for the accident, the dispute over liability is resolved. Since discovery can be a lengthy process, most cases settle within a few months to a few years after the lawsuit is initiated.

Step 5: Trial

If neither party agree to a settlement, the trial begins with the plaintiff presenting evidence to support their claims such as eyewitness testimony, expert testimony, photographs and medical records. After this, the defendant will then present evidence to counter the plaintiff’s claims. Usually a car accident trial lasts 1-2 days.

Judge in court

Step 6: Appeal

If either the plaintiff or defendant isn’t happy with the result of the trial, it is possible to appeal. But this could take at least 6 months to resolve and this is for EACH appeal.

The timeline we have outlined above does not include several phases of litigation that can further lengthen the duration of a case. For example, the defendant may file a motion to dismiss. Moreover, once the discovery phase is completed, either party may file a motion for summary judgment.

settlement offer

In a Nutshell

Without any appeals, a car accident lawsuit could take about a year from start to finish. But there’s really no way to accurately predict the duration of the case as each one is different.

Category: Your Legal Rights