I am often asked when to settle a personal injury wreck claim. The two most important factors in the timing of settlement negotiations are the Statute of Limitations on your claim, and whether you have reached maximum medical improvement.
In North Carolina the Statute of limitations for negligence is generally three years from the date of the wreck. However, if someone dies from wreck-related injuries, the Statute of Limitations can be as short as two years from the date of the wreck even though the death was caused by negligence. If the Statute of Limitations runs out before you settle your claim or file a lawsuit, you lose all your rights against the person who caused the wreck. So, you must get your claim resolved or a lawsuit filed before the Statute of Limitations runs out. In wrongful death cases, the Statute of Limitations can be complicated. If you have questions about it, you can call me.
It is not usually wise to wait until the last minute to try and settle your claim. The problem is that the adjuster will know that the Statute of Limitations is about to run out. The adjuster can then simply make lowball offers which will force you either to settle for less than your claim is worth, or to find a lawyer who is willing to file suit at the last minute. Finding a lawyer at the last minute may not be easy to do. Another problem with waiting until the last minute is that over time witnesses disappear and people forget things. So, if you wait too long, the witness who was so eager to testify that the wreck was the other driver’s fault may have moved or died.
So, from a time perspective, you should begin trying to settle your claim as soon as you reach maximum medical improvement from your wreck-related injuries. By maximum medical improvement, I mean when you have recovered as much as you are going to. For some people, this will be a full recovery. If you are less fortunate, your recovery will not reach the same place you were physically before the wreck.
The reason to wait until you reach maximum medical improvement is because you do not know if you are going to have any permanent injury until you reach that point. And, as you will learn in my video on permanent injuries, they can result in significant compensation. Since most settlements are final, if you settle and later find out your injury is permanent, you will probably not be able to reopen your claim to get what you deserve.
So, what do you do if several years pass and you have not reached maximum medical improvement? At that point, you need to consider filing a lawsuit to preserve your rights while you continue to work toward maximum medical improvement. Whatever you do, do not let the Statute of Limitations pass. Let me repeat that: Whatever you do, do not let the Statute of Limitations pass.
In summary, you should work on getting your claim settled as soon as you reach maximum medical improvement, but you should either settle your claim or file a lawsuit well before the statute of limitations runs on your claim. And, if you are not able to settle your claim for a fair amount within a reasonable time, you should not let the insurance company take advantage of you. Whatever you do, do not let the Statute of Limitations pass without either filing a lawsuit or settling the case.
If you need to talk to me about your personal injury case, give me a call, and I will discuss it with you for free.