When you decide to negotiate an accident settlement instead of continuing a lawsuit all the way into court, it's often because you want to get paid faster, and agreeing to settle is usually faster than going to court and waiting for a judgment. However, "fast" is a relative term—the speed at which the law moves may not be the same as your idea of what is fast. Once you and the other party have agreed to a settlement, there are still a few things that have to happen before you get a check. Take a look at what you need to know about some common delays in receiving your settlement money.
Waiting for The Check to Be Issued
The first thing that has to happen is that the defendant has to send a check to your attorney. That usually doesn't happen immediately – it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the defendant—or more likely, the defendant's insurer—to issue a check.
Some states have rules about how long it can take for a settlement check to be issued. For example, in Florida, the law says that an insurer has to issue a settlement check within 20 days of the settlement date—if not, the money will begin to accrue interest that the insurer will also have to pay. If your state doesn't have a statute like that (or even if it does) it's a smart strategy to include language in the settlement agreement stipulating a deadline for when the insurer must send a check. That way, you can be sure that you aren't waiting for too long.
Waiting for The Check to Clear
Once your lawyer has the check, you can take it to the bank and cash it, right? Not exactly. Your lawyer first has to deposit the check in an account known as a trust account. Until your lawyer places the money in this account and the check is paid by the defendant's bank, your lawyer isn't allowed to disburse any of the funds.
It can take a check as long as 10 days to clear the trust account, and there's no real way to speed up the process. It's rare, but on occasion checks from defendants do bounce, so waiting it out is the only way to make sure that everyone is protected.
Paying Back Your Insurer and Doctors
Finally, before your lawyer can give you any money that you're supposed to receive from the settlement, your lawyer will first pay off any liens that you might have against that settlement money from your insurer or your doctors.
Some people are surprised to find that they owe their health insurance company money when they receive a settlement. However, one of the reasons that you received a settlement was to cover your medical bills from the accident; if your insurer has been paying those bills, then technically they're entitled to reimbursement. If you look at your insurance policy, you'll find language to that effect.
That doesn't mean that you necessarily have to pay everything your insurance company paid for, however. Your attorney can negotiate with the insurer over your payment, which allows you to receive more money. It's common practice for insurers to reduce your payments by the same percentage as your attorney's fees—for example, if your attorney gets 30% of your settlement, the insurer will reduce your bill by 30%. If you settled for less than your case was worth, your attorney can argue that your debt should be further reduced for that reason. This process can take time—it's almost like negotiating a whole new settlement—but it's worth your while to let your attorney do their best to negotiate your medical costs down.
Waiting for a settlement check can be frustrating, but these delays are normal and nothing to worry about. Ask your attorney to keep you apprised of where you are in the settlement process so that you can get an idea of when to expect your money. Contact a law firm like AMS Law Group for more information.