After a long and stressful legal battle, it is normal to look forward to your settlement check. After all, the lawsuit has incurred a lot of bills and you’re in a hurry due to the financial pressure.
But getting that check is not always as simple as you expect it to be and it won’t happen immediately after the case is settled.
When a case is finally resolved and the plaintiff is awarded compensation, the check isn’t handed directly to the plaintiff. Instead, it is sent to the plaintiff’s legal representative. Why?
Because your lawyer has to cover their fee and various expenses incurred from the lawsuit. That is why you, the plaintiff, don’t get the check the same day it arrives.
How Long Can My Lawyer Keep My Check?
How long a lawyer keeps your settlement check depends on several factors. Once the check is received, there are a few things that must be done before you finally get your money. Although it doesn’t usually take longer than a week , some delays are common and expected.
The settlement check process can be complex but if you know what to expect, it is much less stressful. Plaintiffs usually receive the money within several weeks from the day the case is settled.
The process involves the following steps:
Signing a Release Form
When a settlement is reached, the plaintiff has to sign a release form. This is one of the first things you need to do. This form confirms that you will not pursue legal action against the defendant for the same incident again. Depending on the case, the release forms may be relatively simple or detailed and comprehensive. Your lawyer will help you with this so that the form is signed as quickly as possible.
In some rare cases, it is possible that the opposing party doesn’t agree with some parts of the release form so you will negotiate this further. You would need to alter some parts of the forms and send them again. This doesn’t happen frequently though.
The insurance company receives the release form and processes your check. However, your check may be delayed due to internal processing. Keep in mind that many organizations will find loopholes in laws that enable them to delay sending the payment. State laws vary regarding how long the defendant has to issue a settlement check. For example, it can be between 10 and 30 days but the defendant may wait until the last day to issue a check. You should be prepared for such delays.
Waiting for the Check to Be Cleared
Once this part is over, you need to wait until the check is cleared. The check is sent to your attorney of record who may hold it in a trust account (it is a mandatory step in some states). But before that, the check must be signed by you if your name is on it.
After the check has been deposited, it usually takes several days until it’s cleared. Once it’s cleared, the attorney will deduct their fee as well as any related expenses they might have covered for you such as court fees, etc.
You must be aware of these fees and legal expenses ahead of time so that you are not surprised in the end. These costs and the lawyer’s fee may take a sizable portion of your settlement money.
Paying Your Liens
A portion of your settlement money will be used to cover unpaid debts (liens) that you haven’t paid during negotiations such as medical bills, expert witnesses, health insurance, etc. You are legally obliged to pay these bills as soon as your case settles. Avoiding it results in penalties.
Only when these debts are paid can your attorney release the check to you (or what is left from it once all the fees and bills are covered).
Paying your liens and any other related bills is usually very straightforward unless you owe money to a government-funded organization. It can take several months to resolve this.
Delivering the Check to the Plaintiff
Once your attorney has distributed the settlement money and has fulfilled their obligations, you will receive the check. You are free to spend it as you will. After months of uncertainty, various bills other than legal and medical fees have likely piled up and you probably can’t wait to get your hands on the check. However, if there are any remaining bills that your lawyer didn’t cover, you must cover these too before you start spending your settlement money.
Depending on the total settlement amount as well as the related expenses that emerged from the lawsuit, you may walk home with a smaller check than expected. To prevent any surprises, you should talk to your lawyer and make sure you understand all the legal fees and related costs of a lawsuit ahead of time.
Can You Speed the Process Up?
As you can see, how long the lawyer keeps your check does not necessarily depend on them. If the defendant’s insurance company processes the check quickly, the plaintiff usually doesn’t wait too long to receive the check. In many cases, the plaintiff receives the check within several days after it has been deposited to the attorney.
You can’t really do much to speed up the process because it’s out of your hands. However, what you can do is prepare a release form in advance (if you are certain the case will settle) and review all the bills and liens with your lawyer as you wait for your check to be processed.
If you are in a serious hurry to collect your check but it is taking much longer than you expected, there is a second option. You can apply for a post-settlement loan from a lawsuit loan company such as Delta Settlement Funding.
We can grant you a post-settlement loan to help you cover any urgent bills you may be facing while you wait for your settlement money.