Most states do not require insurance companies to settle cases quickly. Your case may settle before trial, or it may drag on through trial, or even after the trial is completed. Delay is the friend of the insurance company. The longer they can keep your money, the better they like it because they invest your money and reap the profits. Normally people in your situation would like to receive compensation as soon as possible and would like to settle their cases quickly. Insurance companies know this and use various tactics to try to get you to settle your case for less than its true value. Here are some of the things that they can use to discourage you from continuing your legal battle.
Discovery: Our rules of procedure allow insurance companies the opportunity to “discover” anything and everything that they wish about you and the accident. You can expect many written questions to answer under oath. In addition, you have to produce certain documents and medical records, plus admit or deny specific written questions which they submit to you. As you might expect, the efforts to gather all the medical records, bills, and other documentation takes time, money, and effort.
Depositions:As we discussed above, it is very possible that you will have to appear for a deposition under oath. The insurance company’s lawyer will ask you, in great detail, about the accident facts, your injuries, pre-existing injuries, and treatment that you have received. Insurance lawyers work on an hourly basis and it is to their advantage to take a long time during this process.
Motion Practice: Many insurance companies pride themselves in filing as many motions as possible. This gives them the opportunity to schedule hearings with the court which, because of cluttered calendars, are often difficult to get. This results in delay which, as we have stated before, is the friend of the insurance company. Some of these motions are unimportant to you, but many may be very important to the outcome of the case.
Alternative Dispute Resolution: Most courts are requiring cases, at some point prior to trial, to be submitted to alternative dispute resolution. This can be either binding arbitration, mediation, or sometimes a summary trial. Many courts will not even set a trial date until this process is completed.
Mediation is the process typically chosen in an effort to resolve disputes. It is basically a settlement conference without the formalities of a court. An independent mediator, either agreed upon by the parties or selected by the court, attempts during the process to reach a middle ground that all parties can accept in order to settle the claims. The mediator makes no recommendations and issues no rulings. It is non-binding.
Arbitration is a horse of a different color. It can take the form of a binding “mini-trial” with the ultimate determination to be decided by one or more arbitrators. Once the decision is made, it is final.
Trial: If your case is not settled through negotiations or alternative dispute resolution, then it is headed to trial before the court. At this point, a jury will be selected consisting of either six or twelve strangers, depending upon the court, who will decide the value of your injuries. Trials are scheduled on the court’s schedule, not the lawyer’s schedule and not the injured victim’s schedule. Cases sometimes take years to be scheduled for trial, especially in some major urban areas. Having a case that is two or three years old before going to trial is not uncommon. Once you have a trial, your case may still not be over. There may be an appeal, further motions, and additional hearings. Keep in mind that the longer the insurance company keeps the funds that it should pay to you, it is benefited because it can earn money by using those funds.
Collection Problems: If you are lucky enough to receive a jury verdict and the trial court reduces that verdict to a judgment in your favor, you may have difficulty collecting from the insurance company or the person responsible for your injuries. If the defendant decides to pay, the defendant’s lawyer will have a check or draft issued by the insurance company payable to you and your attorney. Before they send you money, you will be required to sign a release document and file some sort of a dismissal motion. These things take time and increase the delay.