It’s a great relief to win a lawsuit or to reach a settlement, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll get paid immediately. The waiting period and legal procedures that must be followed before you receive your money does confuse clients sometimes. There are a lot of possible factors. Here is what you can expect in the most common scenarios.
Once a settlement has been reached, it’s now up to the lawyers to finish it up. Usually, this has to be fully completed within 30-60 days of the ruling, depending on local laws. The defendant has to send your lawyer the settlement terms, often called the “release”. Your lawyer will review it and explain it to you. You may have to make decisions like whether or not to get all the funds at once or to get checks over time. The release statement will also contain language declaring the whole matter settled, so you cannot reopen the case. Once you’ve signed, you cannot change the terms. You may have to sign multiple copies in front of a notary public.
Assuming the terms are acceptable (and sometimes the court will review the release as well) and both parties have signed, the first waiting period starts. The defendant will send the money to your lawyer to place into a trust. This is so they can confirm that the check will clear. This can take a while, usually around 10 days. Interest made off of your settlement usually goes to the state bar to assist low-income clients and does not go to your lawyer.
After the check clears, now your lawyer has to make sure there are no liens against the money. The most common lien you’ll have is a medical lien. Basically, your medical bills must get paid first before you, or your lawyer, will see any payment. There may also be governmental liens, like if you were unable to pay child support because you were in the hospital, or if you had to use Medicare or Medicaid.
A major delay that can happen here is waiting for your doctors to render a final bill. They get to keep working on you until you’re either cured of your injury or it is declared that you’re as healthy as you’re going to get. Depending on how you were injured, this can take quite a while.
Your lawyer will negotiate on your behalf with your creditors to lower bills where they can. They do not want to leave you with leftover bills if at all possible. Once the liens are paid, the lawyer can then take their cut and give you what money is left.
If your case goes to trial, your payment will take a lot longer thanks to the appeals process. Insurers will often appeal and this can stretch the final payment date to years past the incident. This is one reason why settlements are often reached instead of a trial. However, if the trial does rule in your favor after all is said and done, the procedure is the same as above.
What if they don’t pay?
If you win your case, but your opponent refuses to pay up or drags their feet, there are a number of legal options your lawyer can pursue to get what you are owed, including issuing liens and garnishing wages. They can even start charging interest. There may be laws in your area that limit what assets your lawyer is allowed to go after. They may also declare bankruptcy, which adds a new layer of complication.
Still, in most cases, you should receive your money within 30-60 days after the court ruling. There’s not much that can be done to hurry the process. If you have further questions, please speak to one of our lawyers for a free consultation.