How Long Does It Take to Get My Settlement Check?
Once you finally complete all the steps it takes to obtain a personal injury settlement, it’s understandable to want to receive your check as soon as possible. You may be dealing with unpaid medical bills, payments you owe insurance companies, or pay gaps from missed time at work – not to mention the costs of repairing or replacing damaged property, such as a totaled vehicle. While your injury lawyer can break down the exact payment date for your case, you can estimate your lawsuit settlement payment time frame based on the following general outline:
Signing the Release Form
Once the North Carolina courts issue an “order of settlement,” the defendant will have 30 to 60 days to complete and submit all settlement papers. You must first sign a Release, or a legal document the defense attorney draws up to hammer out the terms of the settlement. Your lawyer will help you review the Release before adding your signature. Most Release forms state that by accepting the settlement check, you’re waiving your right to ever file another lawsuit against the defendant for the same incident in the future.
In general, the defendant’s insurance company will not issue a settlement check until you sign the release form. This protects the defendant from future liability for the accident or injury in question. The Release will have specific legal language, and may be one page long or 15 pages depending on the details of the case and the attorney. Your lawyer can read the Release, object to certain terms, or accept it as-is. You will have to sign the Release in front of a notary after discussing it in detail with your lawyer. Once you sign, you can’t change the terms.
Paying Off Liens
Throughout your personal injury lawsuit, your bills didn’t stop. Odds are, your medical insurance company and/or your attorney paid your bills for you. Medicare may have put money toward your medical treatment, or the healthcare provider him/herself may have billed you. Now that you’re receiving a settlement award, you must pay these debts, or liens, back.
Before your attorney can lawfully dispense your share of the settlement to you, he or she must fulfill lien obligations against your lawsuit. These could be medical or government liens. If you and your lawyer arranged a contingency-fee payment plan, your lawyer will also take his/her portion of your settlement before dispensing the rest of the funds to you.
One of the biggest potential delays in getting your settlement money is the possibility of an appeal. After an order of settlement, the defense has the right to appeal the judge’s decision. An appeal could take one or two years to complete – delaying your settlement award. Other potential delays include lengthy defendant processes, lack of a deadline by which the defendant must furnish the plaintiff with funds after an order of settlement, and loopholes insurance companies may know about to postpone paying a plaintiff.
In some cases, a defendant may have to pay your settlement with interest for unfairly delaying payout. This can incentivize defendants to issue settlement checks promptly after you sign the Release. Only after all internal processes end, you’ve paid your legal fees, and you don’t have any more liens against your award may you take home what’s left of the settlement. Once it’s time to send the settlement check, typically it is the attorney of record who receives it. The attorney can put the check in escrow or a trust for several days while it clears.
A good accident attorney may be able to speed up the settlement timeline by pre-drafting forms, anticipating potential delays, and preventing excuses on the defense’s part. Working with a lawyer can help you get your settlement as quickly as possible.