How Long Does it Take to Recover Compensation from an Accident?

How Long Does it Take to Recover Compensation from an Accident?

Why is your car accident case taking so long? An auto accident case timeline...

A “typical” personal injury lawsuit that results in a trial could take more than a year to be fully resolved. Here’s what you can expect for a timeline of how the case might progress through the legal system.
Jump to section


After a car accident, you probably have 2 priorities:

  1. Recovering from your injuries, and
  2. Paying for your treatment.

Hopefully, the physical recovery happens quickly. But the reality for many folks is that some injuries could take weeks, months, or even years to resolve (and some leave you with life-long complications or disabilities). And almost as soon as you’re ready to begin thinking about moving forward, you are likely faced with what could be the start of many, many bills for your treatment and related expenses.

So, what do you do?

You don’t want to go into debt for an accident that wasn’t your fault, but you also might not have the resources to pay for all of these expenses—particularly if your injuries left you unable to return to work.

Depending on the specifics of how your accident happened, whether your state is an at-fault or no-fault jurisdiction, and the severity of your injuries, there’s a general timeline for when you can expect to receive damages (financial compensation for your losses).

Process and timeline for seeking damages after a car accident

Immediately following the accident
  1. Seek medical treatment. This is crucial following any accident, even if it seems minor or you feel uninjured. If you don’t require treatment at the scene or emergency attention, you should still seek an evaluation at an urgent care or from your own medical provider. Any person involved in the accident as a driver or passenger should do the same.
Timing: Immediately
  1. File a report to your insurance company. A report is different from a claim. Most insurance companies have strict guidelines for when you must report an accident — and it’s often within a few days to weeks following the event. If you fail to report the crash, you can lose your ability to claim payment. However, reporting the accident doesn’t mean you need to file a claim. You can take some time to figure out the best way to proceed (and to consult with a lawyer) before you make that decision.
Timing: Immediately (or within a few days, as soon as possible)
1-6 months after the accident
  1. Find a lawyer. If your accident resulted in serious injuries or you require long-term or ongoing care, it’s best to find an attorney who can help you navigate the claims process and determine exactly how much money you’re owed.

    Here are some resources to help you find the right lawyer for your situation:

Timing: Within a month or 2 (as soon as possible)
  1. Your lawyer reviews the claim. It can take up to several months for your lawyer to review the evidence and financial information, depending on the complexity. If you’re looking ahead at long-term or life-long treatment for an injury from the accident, your lawyer will likely consult medical experts, financial experts, and actuaries to get an accurate figure for how much money you’ll need to cover your long-term expenses.

    It takes time for a lawyer to contact the experts, wait for them to respond, allow them time to review facts and evidence, build an analysis, ensure that the demand complies with state laws, and complete a full evaluation.

    Also, remember that your lawyer likely has a full docket of cases — yours isn’t the only file they’re working on at a given time. Even (or especially) the most dedicated, hard-working, and skilled lawyer has to divide their time and prioritize among clients based on deadlines and where each case is in its process of litigation.
Timing: 3-6 months
  1. Send a demand letter. Your lawyer will begin to negotiate your claim by sending a demand letter to the defendant, their insurance company, or their attorney. Your lawyer will need time to review evidence supporting your damages like medical bills, property damage bills, wage loss verification, and other expenses that you incurred.

    The demand letter notifies the defendant that you’re making a claim, how much you want to recover, and for what expenses.
Timing: 4-6 weeks for response
  1. File a claim. You’re not ready to file a lawsuit yet. You could get lucky and your settlement will be reached based on the demand letter (but this might be unlikely if it’s a high amount). More likely, THEN your lawyer will initiate a lawsuit by preparing a complaint.

    Once your lawyer serves the complaint on the defendant, the defendant has 20 days in which to file a response.
Timing: 2-4 weeks for response
6-12 months after the accident
  1. Discovery. Discovery is the process by which all parties gather information from each other (and external sources) in order to establish arguments and assess damages. This can be a lengthy process, depending on the complexity of your case and how many parties are involved.

    Discovery includes deposing witnesses (either in writing or in person), obtaining records and other evidence, and conducting a full assessment of what your future medical costs and related expenses would be. This process could take up to a year.
Timing: Up to a year
  1. Negotiations. Again, how long this process takes depends on how motivated the parties are to settle, the merits of the case, and the amount of money in question. Negotiations could be complete after 1 meeting or arbitration session, or they could involve several back-and-forth exchanges.

    Remember that each step of the negotiating process takes time. Once the defense presents a settlement offer, your lawyer must then present it to you, along with their advice on whether it’s a sound and reasonable offer. You likely need some time to think about it and discuss it with your lawyer.

    If you and your lawyer determine that you’re entitled to more than the offer includes, your lawyer will need a little time to present a counteroffer to the defense. The defense attorney will then need to present it to their client, who will make a decision, get back to the lawyer, and the lawyer will present another offer to your lawyer... and so on.
Timing: A few weeks to a few months
Approximately 1 year after the accident
  1. Trial, if necessary. If settlement negotiations are unsuccessful, your case will go to trial. But if you think you’re set for trial, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to happen. It’s not uncommon for cases to settle in the days (or even 1 day) before a trial.

    If you do go to trial, most typical car accident or personal injury cases last a day or 2... maybe up to a week. The cases that you hear about on the news that seem to drag on for weeks or months are usually very, very complex or are criminal trials.
Timing: A few days to a week
  1. Settlement. It’s also possible to settle any time up to when the jury delivers a verdict.

When to expect a settlement check

If you reach a settlement with the insurance company, it can still take several months to receive a check. The following factors can affect how long this process takes:

  • You likely need to sign several releases (that you’ve agreed to the settlement), usually before a notary, before the insurance company will issue a check.
  • The insurance company accounting department could take some time (bureaucratic “red tape”).
  • Mail. Again, a large company doesn’t just stick a check in the mail. Everything takes processing time. Nowadays, the postal service, itself, is a little slower than it used to be.
  • There could be a bank hold on the check that takes a few days to clear.
  • If the insurance company is directly reimbursing medical providers, it will sometimes delay the  release of funds for other damages until treatment is complete.
  • If your lawyer receives the check on your behalf, they usually wait until the check clears before they disburse the money to you.

If you’re issued a judgment, you still have to be patient. Before filing the lawsuit, your lawyer probably ran a credit and asset check on the defendant to see if it’s “worth it” to file a lawsuit. If the defendant has no money, they have no way to pay a judgment.

There are 2 ways to recover money from a judgment who won’t pay:

  1. Lien on property. If your lawyer learns that the defendant owns some assets, they can file a lien against the defendant’s property so the assets are frozen (i.e. can’t be sold or spent) during the course of the lawsuit. Once a judgment is filed, the defendant isn’t required to sell their property immediately. When they do sell the property, though, you’d be paid out of their proceeds from the sale.
  2. Payment plan. If the defendant has some money but not enough to pay the judgment immediately, the court could set up a payment plan so the defendant pays you a small amount per week or per month.

What you should know before your lawyer files a lawsuit

It takes time.

Yes, it’s reasonable to expect that your lawyer will work diligently to reach a settlement and get your compensation paid as quickly as possible... but there are factors that aren’t within their control. So much of litigation is tied to the old phrase, “Hurry up and wait.” Your lawyer should be meeting deadlines for motions and pleadings, but they also have to wait for the opposition to respond. If the opposing counsel is less diligent, it can delay the process.

In many ways, the phrase “Hurry up and wait” perfectly describes how it feels like to file a lawsuit. Tweet this

Plus, most court systems nowadays are busy. They might be dealing with a massive case backlog, particularly in the post-pandemic world. Even under normal circumstances, it can take months for your trial to reach a courtroom. Be patient with your lawyer and with the process, even though it’s going to be hard.

Understand that it’s not uncommon for even a “typical” personal injury lawsuit to take a year or longer to be fully resolved.

Enjuris tip:If you’re trying to decide whether a lawsuit is the best way to resolve your personal injury claim, you can use the Enjuris law firm directory to find an attorney in your state to help guide you through the process.


Connect to top-rated lawyers in seconds using our comprehensive national directory

Find your State


Free personal injury guides for download to print or save. View all downloads.

Tell your story:
Tell your story - What would you want others to know? Tell us what happened in your accident, and how life has changed for you.

Find an attorney:
Search our directory for personal injury law firms.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.