After a car accident, the thing you probably want most is simply to be made whole again, quickly. You want the property damage to your car, truck or bike repaired; you want your injuries to heal so that you can get back to your life; and, you want those medical bills handled by the insurance company. Unfortunately, this process of becoming whole again is a slow one and may require a lot of patience, particularly if you suffered severe injuries. Sometimes everything seems to move a lot slower because of insurance companies. In the event that the accident involved personal injury, it is likely that the insurance company will tell you to wait until you are healed or at “maximum medical improvement” before they can do anything to settle your claim. But while you are laid up at the hospital or at home, the last thing you want to hear from the at-fault drivers’ insurance company is to wait.
As frustrating as the insurance company’s response might be, the truth is that it is in your best interest to wait until you reach “maximum medical improvement” before trying to settle your case. In fact, you should be more concerned if the insurance company is pushing you to settle quickly. For example, in cases involving severe head trauma or brain injury, settling too quickly could be a mistake, as the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury ("TBI") and other injuries do not appear right after a car crash. Legally speaking, you have time to be patient—in Virginia, the statute of limitations for filing your personal injury claim is generally two years, though there are exceptions.
So why slow things down? When settling a case, it is important to seek recovery for the total amount of expenses that the accident caused, and sometimes when you are still in the middle of the healing process, it is simply impossible to know what this total amount of expenses will be. Complications may arise, requiring additional treatment. Or your recovery may turn out to be incomplete, leaving you with life-long consequences and medical expenses. You deserve to be compensated for all of this, but if you settled your case to early, those costs will not be calculated in your total amount of recovery.
Maximum medical improvement is the point at which your doctor can either tell you that you are completely healed or that you have recovered as fully as possible, enabling the doctor to tell you with reasonable certainty what your life-long limitations and care requirements will be. It is only at this point that you and your attorney will be able to come up with a precise calculation of fair compensation to "balance" all of the harms and losses the defendant driver’s unsafe actions caused. If you are deemed completely healed, then you can total up all the medical expenses you incurred. If you will never completely heal, information from your doctor can help you predict what the range of your future medical expenses will be. That information will also help you identify how much compensation you are owed for your diminished health. Only then can you really begin a settlement process that will fairly—and completely—make you whole again.