Now that your case has settled and you’ve been awarded money for your injury, how long does it take to get your money, and how much of the settlement amount will you get? Both of those answers depend upon the terms of your settlement agreement and the upfront contract you signed with your lawyer. Usually, it takes about four to six weeks to complete the settlement process, but this can vary depending on the terms of your settlement agreement. How much money you receive from the gross settlement amount depends on the expenses incurred during the investigation of your claim, and the fees to be paid to the lawyer handling your case.
Once a settlement amount is agreed upon, most of the following events are likely to occur:
Sign a Release
Before the defendant will disburse any money, the Plaintiff, or injured party, will normally sign an agreement called a “Release.” This statement releases the insurance company, or any parties to the lawsuit included in the Release, from any further responsibility. It frees them from any future claims, demands, or rights resulting from the incident for which the claim was made. This means that the plaintiff cannot collect any more money for this particular claim in the future. The claimant will no longer be able to collect if they happen to incur additional medical expenses, lost earnings, pain & suffering, etc. from the injury for which the settlement was paid out. It means the case is over and cannot be reopened. This is why it is so important to make sure the full extent of all your injuries are known as completely as possible BEFORE you settle your case.
Also called a Non-Disclosure Agreement (‘NDA’). Sometimes, defendants will make their settlement conditional upon the plaintiff signing a Confidentiality clause as part of the Release. This is when the client agrees to keep any settlement amounts or other matters private. There are several reasons a defendant may want a claimant to sign such an agreement. For example, if the defendant is a company, it may be trying to protect the company’s reputation, an insurance company may not want other lawyers to see how much they paid out on a claim, or a high-profile defendant may not want the settlement to become highly publicized. If you sign the agreement, then you must follow the terms of the agreement and keep the matters included within the Confidentiality provision confidential. Failure to do so may mean that the plaintiff, or injured party, might be sued and required to pay a sum of money to the other party. It may even go so far as to require that the injured party pay back the entire settlement amount.
Another important consideration when dealing with Confidentiality agreements is the matter of taxation of money received in a settlement that is specifically paid for the promise to keep the settlement or other matters confidential, as opposed to money paid to compensate you for your injuries. This can be tricky and is best discussed with your attorney. Often, in our office, we simply allocate a specific amount of money as the amount paid for the confidentiality promise, sometimes something like $100 or so.
Settlement Check to Law Firm
Along with the Release, a settlement check will be issued, sometimes together with the Release and sometimes after the Release is signed and returned; this varies from insurer to insurer. The check is usually issued within 30 days of the settlement (but could take longer depending on the agreement) and made out to both the Attorney’s Firm and the Client. Both parties generally must sign the settlement check, which is then deposited into the Firm’s Trust Account before a separate check for the Net Settlement Amount is issued to the Client.
Many clients are confused about the Attorney’s trust account, not understanding why the check is made out to both parties and why it can’t be cashed immediately. First, the check is made out to both parties because it is for the gross amount, which is the total amount of the settlement prior to any deductions. The attorney must separate this money into expenses, fees, and the client’s portion of the check. This is where the trust account comes into play. The attorney trust account is like a special holding cell at the bank. A client’s settlement money is kept safely in this holding cell while the check is properly divided. This separate holding area, or trust account, prevents any of the settlement funds from getting mixed up with general Firm operations. Attorneys have a fiduciary duty to keep client money separate from Firm operations, which is what the trust account allows. Therefore, it’s good business for every attorney to have a trust account to keep client’s funds safe. And most state Bar associations, if not all of them, require that an attorney use a Trust Account.
Medical Bills, Liens, Health Insurance, Etc.
After a person is injured, they may need a lot of medical treatment. Unfortunately, insurance companies typically don’t agree to pay for medical expenses as they are incurred, which is one of the more frustrating aspects of a personal injury case. Instead, the insurance company, if it settles at all, usually wants to settle for a lump sum, and that will normally only occur AFTER the medical treatment is complete or near complete. So, what happens when another insurance company – often a health insurance company or Medicare or Medicaid – pays the medical bills while you are working toward a settlement of your case?
Often what happens is this:
The health insurance company or Medicare or Medicaid will want its money back from the settlement you get, and the law provides them with certain rights that can be dangerous to ignore. For example, let’s say a client has diabetes and relies on Medicare for their diabetes treatment. If this same person is the injured party in a personal injury lawsuit, and the at-fault party’s insurance company won’t pay for medical treatment while the case is ongoing, then this person’s Medicare coverage will likely pay for the medical treatment needed for the injury. However, when the injured party is awarded money from the personal injury lawsuit, Medicare will likely want to be reimbursed for the medical treatment they paid for related to the injury. If the injured party refuses to pay them back, then Medicare could refuse to cover any further medical treatment (including their diabetes treatment) until it is paid back from the personal injury settlement. No-one wants to be refused coverage, and most folks (and their lawyers) probably don’t want to be sued by Medicare or Medicaid.
I mention all of this because it is an issue that should be addressed and dealt with. Sometimes, an insurance company or government agency will negotiate with your attorney and accept a reduced repayment amount. While your lawyer is working to maximize your settlement amount, a good lawyer (but not all lawyers) will also likely be trying to negotiate a smaller reimbursement or repayment amount to the health insurers or government agencies such as Medicare or Medicaid. In addition to medical reimbursement, there are special cases such as Medical Payments coverage and Workers Compensation, that may or may not apply in your case, that you will probably want to speak to your attorney about. As you can tell, this part of a settlement by itself can be very complicated!
Before your Attorney can cash the settlement check, he/she will usually draft a settlement statement to be signed by you, their client. It will list the gross settlement amount, as well as all expenses, attorney’s fees, and the final net settlement amount that will be paid-out to the client. The Attorney should fully explain the statement, and his/her client should understand and agree to the amounts before signing the settlement statement. The settlement statement may include something like this example of a settlement of a case for payment of $100,000:
|Gross Settlement Amount
(This may be 33 1/3% of the total settlement amount, but it may be 40% or more depending on the agreement between you and your lawyer)
|Amount Held in Trust
(Pending resolution of health insurance demand for repayment)
|Net Payable Amount to Client
Money Disbursed to Client
Once the settlement statement has been signed and the check has been deposited into the trust account, the Firm will disburse a check to the client for the net payable amount agreed upon.
Settling a personal injury claim is a complicated and lengthy process. The experienced legal team of Gautreaux Law will work aggressively with insurance companies and other lawyers to ensure that you get full and fair compensation for your injuries without any unnecessary and frustrating delays. Our firm is located in Macon, but we handle cases throughout the entire state of Georgia. If you’ve been injured or a loved one has died due to someone else’s actions, then contact us today via our online contact form or call us at 478-238-9758.