If you’re involved in an injury-related insurance claim after a car accident, you probably know that claimants don’t typically run to the courthouse right off the bat and file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver.
When you’re making a third-party claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, the normal course of action is to let the car insurance claim process play out. That means letting the claims adjuster investigate the circumstances of the accident, the extent of your injuries, and the course of your medical treatment. You (or your attorney) will typically put together a demand letter, the insurance adjuster will respond with a counteroffer, and settlement negotiations will proceed from there. But what if you don't hear back from the adjuster in response to your demand letter? How long should you wait, and what are your best next steps?
There is no law that sets a deadline or timetable for the car insurance company's assigned claims adjuster to respond to your demand letter. Every case is different, and not every car insurance company follows the same claim processing timeline. What's more, the amount of time the insurer is taking to respond to your demand letter has no bearing on how seriously the carrier is taking your claim. Having said that, there are a few things you can do to "encourage" a prompt response. And if you haven't heard from the insurer in 45 to 60 days, you can and should follow up.
First, when you're preparing your car accident demand letter, you can make a professionally-worded request that the insurance company respond to your letter within a certain time period. For example, toward the end of the letter, you can add a few sentences like: “Thank you for your consideration. Please respond to this letter within 30 days.”
Or, if you want to present a little more of a “take charge” air, go with something like: “I look forward to receiving your reply no later than 15 days from your receipt of this correspondence.”
(Get more tips on writing an effective car accident demand letter.)
The inclusion of language like this can motivate a more timely response, but there is no law that you can point to in order to back up these requests. And what if you include language like this in your demand letter, and you still haven’t received a response from the insurance company after 45 to 60 days? It’s appropriate to follow up with the insurance carrier, reminding them that you sent the letter, and requesting that they respond.
You should send this follow up inquiry in writing, providing all relevant claim information, noting the date on which you mailed the demand letter, and providing your current contact information.
If another 30 days or so pass, and you still haven’t heard from the insurance carrier, it’s time to call the company and ask to speak to the adjuster (if one has been assigned and you know his or her name) or the claims administrator. Be sure to document this conversation (the date on which it took place, who you spoke with, and what was said), and mail a follow-up letter to the insurance carrier in which the conversation is summarized. That should kick-start the settlement process, but if it doesn't, you can always escalate things by telling the insurance company that you're ready to file a personal injury lawsuit in court.
Filing a lawsuit in court -- or even just threatening to file -- often magically prompts a response from the insurance company -- perhaps even the company’s first fair settlement offer -- but you might also be in for a long fight.
By taking the step of filing a car accident lawsuit, you’re letting the insurance company know that you mean business, that you believe in the validity of your claim, and that you’re willing to stand up for your legal rights. So sometimes, merely filing the lawsuit can serve as a wake-up call to the adjuster -- not least because the lawsuit will kick off the expensive and time-consuming litigation process, which most insurance companies are eager to avoid.
But if the insurance company really does not believe your claim is a valid one, or if they feel that they are on firm ground when it comes to their valuation of your claim, you could be in for a long fight. And remember, the litigation process can get costly and time-consuming for you too (although most personal injury attorneys will work on a contingency fee basis). If you’ve got an attorney, discuss the right strategy with him or her, and come up with the best game plan for your car accident claim.
Get more tips on settling a car accident claim.