From the Land Mines in Accident Cases section of How You Can Avoid Legal Land Mines by Joseph S. Lyles (2003).
In the case of an auto accident or similar personal injury case, you should not be in too much of a hurry to settle your case. All auto accident claims are segregated into two parts: the property damage claim and the bodily injury claim. The insurance company for the wrongful party (the at-fault driver) should handle your property damage claim relatively quickly after the wreck, but there is no reason to hurry with your bodily injury claim settlement. If you have been injured in a car wreck, don’t settle your bodily injury claim before enough time has passed for you to determine the full nature and extent of your injuries.
An insurance adjuster may approach you shortly after your collision and offer you about $500 to settle your injury claim. Don’t take it! Even if you don’t think you’re hurt, wait a few weeks to make sure. And if you have been hurt, wait until after your doctors have finished treating you before you even consider settling your case.
The only time limit you need to be concerned about is the Statute of Limitations. The Statute of Limitations is simply a state or federal law that sets a limit on how long you have to file a lawsuit after an injury. In South Carolina, the limitation period is three years to sue an individual or corporation, and two years to sue any state agency or government entity. However, if you were injured on a ship or railroad by a federal government employee or agency, a special federal statute may apply.
If you were injured a year or more ago, you should be concerned about the statute of limitations period, and contact an attorney. Find out exactly how long you can wait before your injury claim would be barred or prevented. Thus, you should not be in a big hurry to settle an injury claim, but you should also not wait too long to file a lawsuit. Once your lawsuit is filed, the statute of limitation is no longer a concern.
*Note: Also, be aware that employment discrimination claims have certain shorter time limits. If you think you were a victim of illegal employment discrimination, you should report it at one to the Equal Employment Opportunity Agency office nearest you.
Another reason you should avoid settling your personal injury claim too early is that doctors generally begin treatment conservatively. In other words, doctors often don’t even consider surgery unless your injury is patently obvious, like a broken bon or bad laceration, and they sometimes delay running expensive tests like an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), until they have given your injury some time to heal on its own.
Often doctors assume back and neck injuries are mere sprains and strains. That assumption holds until the pain caused by the injury refuses to respond to anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and the passage of time. Then if the pain doesn’t greatly improve, doctors start suspecting more serious injuries like herniated discs. Consequently, your doctor may not even send you for an MRI until you have been hurting for several months.
If you settled your claim after two months and you later learned you had a herniated disc that needed surgery, then you would have to pay for the surgery with your own resources. You could not open the claim again. Taking time to assess your injuries can ensure that you are appropriately compensated and that you have enough money to pay for all the medical care you need.
The Lesson: Do not settle your injury claim until you are fairly certain that the full extent of your injuries is known. But do not wait so long that you are in danger of going beyond the Statute of Limitations. A good rule of thumb is that if you are still in pain three months after a wreck, ask to see a specialist, such as an orthopedist or neurosurgeon, and also visit an attorney to get his advice.