How Much Is Your Car Accident Settlement Worth? Free Settlement Estimate
How Long Does a Car Accident Settlement Take?

Involvement in a traffic collision creates a difficult situation, which can be made worse by injuries and property damage. You may be legally entitled to monetary compensation. How long does a car accident settlement take? The answer is different for everyone, but understanding the process helps minimize the auto accident settlement timeline and maximize potential payout.

Right After the Accident

Right after an auto accident, it is understandable to feel overwhelmed. Immediately following a collision, take action to establish evidence and support your side of the story: 

  • Call law enforcement 
  • Collect insurance information from other involved parties
  • Take photos of the accident and any resulting damage
  • Get information from any witnesses 
  • Even if injuries appear minor, seek medical attention

Whether seriously injured or not, seek medical attention from a licensed physician. Seeing a doctor as soon as possible after an accident establishes your injuries as a result of the accident. What happens after an accident directly affects the car accident settlement timeline, and it is your responsibility to establish evidence by receiving treatment. 

Car Accident Settlement Timeline

To obtain a car accident settlement, strong supporting evidence is a must. You need a police accident report, medical records, vehicle damage report, and any photos or statements that establish the claim’s credibility.

You should try to wait until your medical treatment has reached Maximum Medical improvement (MMI) to make a claim. MMI shows that your medical treatment has reached its maximum effective level or a point where no significant improvement is possible.

You can’t make a reasonable request for settlement when there may be further medical costs, so waiting maximizes settlement potential. This could take a few weeks, months, or even years, impacting the car accident settlement timeline. 

Ways To Settle a Car Accident Claim

Reaching a settlement occurs in one of three ways, each with a different answer to the question, “How long does a car accident settlement take?” Direct negotiation, arbitration, or a lawsuit all carry different timelines. 

Direct Negotiation

You begin the direct negotiation process by contacting the involved party’s insurance company to request a settlement. Negotiation can be done without any outside legal help and starts with a formal demand letter.

A demand letter is a written communication explaining the amount of compensation you want and why, sent directly to an insurance company. It includes a reasonable settlement amount based on the estimated costs of medical bills and other damages you’ve suffered. 

Once the insurance company receives the demand letter, it sets in motion the negotiation process involving certain steps, including:

  • Insurer issues written acknowledgment of demand letter within 15 days
  • Provides start date of claim investigation
  • Issues request for additional documents
  • Sends written updates every 30 days when extensions are needed
  • Approval or denial is issued within 40 days of the final documents being received

Without a written explanation, an insurance company cannot deny or offer an unreasonably low settlement. Insurance companies are eager to avoid a court battle, making direct negotiation a promising option. Typically, direct negotiation will reach an agreement in 85 days, and you will receive payment around six weeks after that.


Some insurance companies have contracts requiring arbitration to settle claims. Arbitration has both sides meeting with a neutral party, the arbiter, and presenting evidence to support their position. Arbitration’s goal is to find a settlement acceptable to all parties. 

Arbitration is like direct negotiation but with a legal third party, helping the process run smoothly. This can be done without an attorney. You might want to look up legal specifics for your jurisdiction to prepare, which can easily be done over the course of an afternoon or two. Due to the low cost and minimum time requirements, arbitration is a favored form of negotiation and should take one to three months from start to finish.

Filing a Lawsuit 

Filing a lawsuit in court is the final way to obtain a settlement for an auto accident claim. This is a legal action against the other party and involves discovery or information sharing, building a case based on evidence, and presenting your case in front of a judge or jury. 

The average car accident settlement timeline for a lawsuit is nine to 18 months, but it often takes much longer. This is more difficult to undertake on your own. You may consider getting advice from legal counsel or even hiring an attorney to help you through this process, though the self-help center at the courthouse may also be sufficient for you to proceed.

A Few Things to Remember 

So, how long does a car accident settlement take? Depending on the resolution process, anywhere from a couple of months to multiple years. No matter how you do it, everyone wants to find the quickest, most reasonable solution.

How long your settlement takes can be affected by the complexity of the case, the clarity of the evidence, or an insurance company’s willingness to settle. 95% of all car accident settlements are solved without stepping foot in a courtroom, so it is very likely yours will be, too.  

About Shelby Stone-Huff

Shelby Stone-Huff is an experienced writer in the automotive and law fields and brings her knowledge of both together for Lawsuit Info Center. She is proud to help others understand the legalities of automotive accidents through the knowledge she has obtained through experience.