Auto Accident Settlement Timeline: What to Expect


Laura Schaefer

If you’re hurt in a car accident, you may worry about what happens next. Not only are you in pain, but you’re unsure about what to expect in terms of an auto accident settlement timeline from the at-fault driver. Fortunately, help is available. If you’re concerned about the financial impact of your accident, it is time to reach out to a lawyer who specializes in auto accident settlements.

You don’t have to face high medical bills or lost wages alone. The defendant may owe you a large settlement via their insurance carrier, provided an attorney negotiates it for you.

Most auto accident cases are settled without going to trial. However, you must first complete a series of steps with help from an attorney. These steps can take several months to unfold. In fact, motor vehicle cases typically take 319.27 days from filing to resolution, according to federal district court data.

For an idea of what to expect, these seven steps will define most people’s auto accident settlement timeline.

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7 Steps In Any Typical Auto Accident Settlement Timeline

Infographic of auto accident settlement timeline.

Step 1: Seek Medical Treatment

The first step in your auto accident settlement timeline is probably something you’ve already done. But if not, begin here. Seeking proper medical treatment for injuries following your accident is absolutely crucial. Even if you aren’t in immediate pain, serious injuries (like whiplash) can show up in the days or weeks following your crash. If you skip this step, you’ll delay both your recovery and your auto accident settlement timeline. Failing to see a doctor can also reduce your settlement amount.

Once you receive medical guidance, follow it until you’ve fully recovered or until your doctors feel you’ve progressed as far as you can. This may take weeks or even years, depending on how badly you were hurt in your accident.

Step 2: Reach Out to an Attorney for a Free Case Evaluation to Request Your Initial Auto Accident Settlement Timeline

Call an attorney in your area once you seek medical attention for your injuries. It is wise to do this as soon as you are able, as your attorney will begin to collect evidence to support your claim of damages. They will review the following:

  • Medical records and bills
  • Property damage estimates
  • Wage loss verifications
  • Additional out-of-pocket expenses

It usually takes between two to six months to gather all this documentation. If you can, provide the items your lawyer requests from you as quickly as possible. This will help them evaluate your case and auto accident settlement timeline more accurately.

Step 3: Your Attorney Will Send a Demand Letter

After assessing your damages, your attorney will negotiate your claim. This happens before filing a lawsuit. It begins when your lawyer sends a demand letter. In most cases, your lawyer will receive a response within four to six weeks. 

Step 4: File a Claim

If your case isn’t resolved, your attorney will file a lawsuit. They begin this step by preparing a complaint. You will review and verify this complaint. Then, your attorney files it and serves the defendant. Defendant(s) generally have 20 days to file a response. Your case may never go to trial, as trials are rare. The defendant(s) may wish to settle at any time.

Step 5: Engage in a Formal Information Exchange

If no settlement is forthcoming, the parties involved in your case move on to something called “discovery.” Discovery is a term for the process where each party involved in a court case 1) exchanges information, 2) assesses damages, and 3) establishes their defenses.

Your attorney’s job is to work with you to see that the information gathered during this step is complete and accurate — and builds a strong case for your auto accident settlement amount. This part of the process can take six months to a year.

Step 6: Continue the Negotiation

Now that all the case information and details are clear, your lawyer will negotiate on your behalf. They may recommend arbitration or mediation instead of proceeding to trial. This step can take two to four weeks.

Step 7: Go to Trial or Settle

If the parties involved cannot settle, then you will go to trial. Auto accident trials usually only take a day or two. Sometimes, both parties reach a settlement during the trial. If you choose to settle, you will usually obtain your settlement check within 30 days after signing and returning the release agreement.

What Issues Can Potentially Affect Your Auto Accident Settlement Timeline?

The timeline above may vary in your case, as each situation is unique. The time it takes to settle your case depends on many factors, including:

  • Severity of your injuries
  • How much time it takes you to recover from your injuries
  • the at-fault driver’s insurance limits
  • Your state’s laws
  • Tort selection
  • Liability defense strategies

To secure an appropriate settlement amount for your case as soon as possible, reach out to a personal injury attorney in your area today.

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Laura Schaefer

Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at and