This is a question that I get asked all of the time. In almost every instance, it’s from someone who has a lawyer on the case, but either “can’t get a hold of them” or “they never answer any questions.”
It’s amazing to me that an attorney can run their business this way. It’s literally the least amount of customer service they can provide. And of course it doesn’t encourage the client to come to them in the future for help on a new case or refer a family member or friend.
Since these lawyers won’t do their jobs, I’ll do it for them. The answer is that it depends (which is also why these lame attorneys are the best ones to provide the answer). But let me explain the options.
1. If you have a lawyer and the insurance company does not, your attorney should tell the adjuster that they will prepare a settlement contract. If that happens, they can add language to the contract that is favorable to you. Every Illinois workers’ compensation attorney I know has a standard settlement contract that they use. To prepare one for you just requires them to change names and case information. At most this would take an hour, but usually it can be done in 20 minutes or so. Then they get the contracts to you to sign, then get them to the adjuster who will hopefully sign them quickly and return them and then they submit them to the Arbitrator for approval. This can take 30-60 days on average, but an aggressive lawyer can rush the process. We’ve been involved in cases where settlement contracts were hand delivered to the adjuster in order to speed up the process.
2. If the insurance company hired a lawyer then they will typically prepare the contracts. The biggest issue with this is that sometimes they’ll put in language that we don’t agree with so we’ll have to go back and forth on the minor terms. This doesn’t happen a lot, but it can happen and you should want your lawyer to review the contracts with a fine tooth comb and make sure you aren’t screwing yourself. For example, failure to check one little box can make you liable for all medical bills. Once we agree though, it’s just a matter of getting you in to sign the contracts, so often this process can be quicker. That said, if the other lawyer is lazy or on vacation, there might be a wait. Rest assured though that the adjuster and other attorney want to close your case almost as bad as you do, so usually delays aren’t a problem. The time for a defense lawyer to prepare a contract is really no different than it is if your lawyer does it.
3. If you have a really serious injury that will likely result in future treatment and disability, it may be required that we contract with a company to prepare what is called a Medicare Set Aside. In plain English, it’s money for future medical care that would have to be exhausted before Medicare would ever kick in to cover your medical needs. This can add a month or two to the process and cause for longer settlement contracts with more negotiation. It’s a good thing though because it looks out for you and puts more money in your pocket.
Those are the three most common scenarios. After the contracts are prepared and signed by all parties, they get submitted to an Arbitrator for approval. Often this can be done the same day and handed back to your attorney, other times, such as when the Arbitrator is not in the office, it can take a couple of weeks.
Once we retrieve approved settlement contracts, a good attorney will immediately fax and mail them to the other attorney and/or adjuster with payment instructions. Once that happens it typically takes two weeks for a check to arrive, but it can sometimes be faster or longer. If more than 30 days has passed then there’s a problem.
I know if you settle your case, you want to be paid and I don’t blame you. If there is any silver lining, be happy that the process for closing out a work injury case in Illinois is actually faster than it is for most other areas of law.
As always, if you have any questions about this process or anything else, please contact me.