Car Accident Settlement Timeline

How long does it take to settle a Maryland car accident claim? That depends on a lot of factors.

In some cases, you might not be able to settle at all, resulting in a lengthy court process. However, most people resolve car accident claims within a few months. 

The Steps Involved in Settling a Car Accident Claim in Maryland

Below is a typical timeline for a car accident claim based on Maryland law. The steps involved in your case may deviate from this outline based on the particular facts.

Step 1: Gather Evidence at the Scene of the Accident

If you are not too seriously injured, you should start gathering evidence at the scene of the accident, such as:

  • Photographs and videos of the accident scene
  • Photos and videos of injuries and property damage
  • The other driver’s license, contact, and insurance information
  • Other relevant photographic evidence, such as a half-empty whiskey bottle in the back seat of the other driver’s car

Don’t gather evidence if the strain of doing so seems likely to worsen your injuries.

Step 2: Seek Medical Attention

Medical treatment should be your top priority, even if you think you’re not injured. Some injuries, such as traumatic brain injury or whiplash, can cause delayed symptoms. 

If you delay seeking medical care, you are inviting the insurance company to claim that your injuries didn’t occur until after the accident (which means the insurance company isn’t responsible for them). Seek immediate medical treatment if your body suffered any impact at all.

Step 3: Talk to a Maryland Personal Injury Lawyer

Most Maryland personal injury attorneys won’t charge you for an initial consultation. Schedule one to describe your claim. If the lawyer offers to take your case, they probably believe they can win it. The earlier in your case that you involve a lawyer, the better your chances of eventual success.

Step 4: Understand Contributory Negligence

Maryland has imposed the nation’s harshest shared fault laws. If a court decides that you were even 1% at fault for your injuries, you lose. That means you cannot recover a dime for your injuries or property damage. 

You can be sure that the opposing party (probably an insurance company) will try to find fault to pin on you. Your lawyer can help you understand how contributory negligence works and anticipate problems that might arise.

Step 5: Reach Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)

Maximum medical improvement (MMI) is the point at which your medical condition has stabilized and is unlikely to improve further with additional treatment. At this point, you should have a good idea of how much money to claim for medical expenses. If you negotiate too early, you’ll have to estimate the amount of your future medical costs.

Step 6: Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company

Even if you’re relying on the at-fault driver’s insurance policy for compensation, your own insurance company might require you to report the accident to them. Check the wording of your policy.

Step 7: Investigate the Accident

Your lawyer can investigate the crash for you by:

  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Locating CCTV footage of the accident (if available)
  • Checking cell phone records to confirm that the at-fault driver was texting and driving
  • Obtaining copies of your medical records and the police report

There are many other steps your lawyer can take to gather information and evidence about your claim. It’s especially important to rely on a lawyer if you spend time in the hospital since you cannot investigate your claim very effectively from a hospital bed.

Step 8: Calculate Your Damages 

Your lawyer can help you. You might claim compensation for the following economic and non-economic damages:

You might need the assistance of an expert to calculate some of these damages, especially if you expect to suffer long-term disability.

Step 9: Send a Demand Letter

You need to send a carefully worded demand letter to the party responsible for paying your claim. You will probably send it to the at-fault party’s liability insurance carrier. 

You’ll also need to include some documentation, such as your relevant medical treatment records. It’s important that you perform this step precisely. Your lawyer can help you with this. Sending a demand letter will probably get the claim negotiation process started.

Step 10: Negotiate Your Claim

Better yet, let your lawyer handle negotiations for you because insurance adjusters are expert negotiators. You can expect the insurance company’s first offer to be very low. Respond with a fair counteroffer (plus some padding to give you some negotiating room), and keep negotiating.

Step 11: File a Car Accident Lawsuit If Necessary

You can expect some resistance from the insurance company. After all, the more money they pay you, the less money they get to keep for themselves. Optimistically, it’s likely that you’ll be able to reach a settlement without filing a lawsuit. 

However, if the insurance company is giving you trouble, you might need to file a personal injury lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit offers several benefits, including beating the statute of limitations deadline (typically three years from the date of the accident.).

Keep in mind that filing a lawsuit doesn’t mean you’ll end up at trial. You can still settle your claim even after you file a lawsuit.

Step 12: Engage in Pretrial Discovery

Once you file a lawsuit, you will gain access to the pretrial discovery process. Pretrial discovery is a powerful, court-supervised evidence-gathering process. The main drawback is that it could take months or more to complete. 

Step 13: Post-Discovery Negotiations

Keep negotiating during and after the discovery process. If you’re lucky, the discovery process will yield enough evidence to settle your claim in your favor.

Step 14: Mediation

Mediation services from a trained mediator might break a negotiating deadlock. Although involving a mediator is usually optional, if you file a lawsuit, the court might insist that you at least try mediation. 

You can engage in mediation at any stage of the negotiating process – you don’t have to file a lawsuit first. Remember, however, that a mediator cannot force any party to agree to anything.

Step 15: Draft and Sign the Settlement Agreement

After you reach an agreement, you need to negotiate, draft, and sign a settlement agreement. Do not download a template you found on the internet. Your lawyer should help draft the settlement agreement because every word matters.

Step 16: Disbursement of Funds/Release

After you sign the settlement agreement, you will have to sign a written release of your claim against the opposing party. This is your side of the bargain. The opposing party’s side of the bargain is to pay you the settlement money. The money will probably go to your lawyer’s escrow account first. They will deduct their legal fees and any other appropriate deductions and then send you whatever amount remains.

If the Opposing Party Refuses to Pay

A settlement agreement is a binding legal contract. If the opposing party fails to honor their contractual commitment to pay your settlement money, you can sue them. If the defendant loses and still refuses to pay, you can ask the court to take coercive measures, such as garnishing their bank account.

An insurance company will almost always pay you the amount you agreed upon unless it is in bankruptcy proceedings.

You Don’t Have to Pay Attorney’s Fees Unless You Win Your Maryland Car Accident Case

A Maryland personal injury lawyer will probably charge you based on the contingency fee system. That means you don’t pay any legal fees unless you win. Even then, the amount will be a pre-agreed percentage of the amount you recover.