So you’ve settled your personal injury case, and you’re counting on having your funds shortly, but your lawyer tells you that it could be months before you see the check. Is there some funny business going on? Can it really take two months or longer to get your personal injury settlement?
For better or for worse, the answer is yes, it can really take at least six weeks, if not two or three months or even longer, to finish all of the necessary settlement paperwork. Read on to learn why.
What's Up, Docs?
Once you settle the case, now your lawyer and the defense attorney (and/or the other side's insurance company) have to agree on the settlement documents, i.e., a "Release" and possibly a separate settlement agreement. (Learn more about The Role of Insurance in Settling a Personal Injury Case.)
For a small personal injury case that you settle directly with the insurance company without a lawyer, this will usually be just one short form, but, if your case has proceeded to the lawsuit phase and is more complex, the insurance company and defendant will probably send your lawyer a release and settlement agreement that could be ten or twenty pages long. (More: Insurance Claims Versus Lawsuits.)
In a bigger personal injury case, it could take the defense attorney a couple of weeks just to prepare the release and settlement agreement. Then, the documents will be sent to your lawyer, who may very well disagree with certain terms or verbiage. Then, the two lawyers have to argue about it for a while, and that takes up more time. If they never can agree on the final terms of the release, then they have to go to trial and have the judge rule on what the settlement agreement should say. That of course will put the settlement on hold for months, not weeks.
So you can see it could easily take a month from the day that you settle your case just to get a final copy of the release to sign. Then, once you get the release, you want to read it carefully and review it with your lawyer. That alone will take a few days. Then, you would sign the release, and your lawyer would return it to the defense attorney so it can be finalized.
Lien on Me?
While all of this document prep work is going on, your lawyer and the insurance lawyer have to determine whether there are any liens on your case.
Liens can come from health care providers; health, disability income, or workers’ compensation insurers; state or federal tax authorities; or state child support agencies, just to name a few.
While your lawyer will certainly want to conduct his/her own investigation to make sure that there are no liens on your case, the insurer will do the same, and insurers don’t work too fast at this because, very simply, it’s not their money or their problem. They work at their own speed, and they won’t send the settlement check to your lawyer until they are satisfied that there are either no liens on your case, or that your lawyer has confirmed to them in writing that he/she will pay the liens out of your settlement money.
The Check is (Almost) In the Mail
Finally, the insurer sends your lawyer a check for the settlement, but it’s still going to take a little more time for you to get your share of the settlement money. This is because your lawyer has to deposit the settlement check into his/her escrow account and wait for it to clear before disbursing your share of the settlement to you. (Learn more about Attorney Responsibility for Client Funds.) According to federal banking law and state lawyers’ ethics boards, that can take another week.
For more answers to settlement questions, check out our Personal Injury Settlement FAQs.