A few facts concerning a personal injury claim after an auto accident.
A lawsuit is not the only way to get compensation for your losses. Often times a demand is made to the insurance companies with your losses detailed. It costs the insurance company if the matter goes to court, so settlement is often reached; however, each case is unique and sometimes the amount offered is not enough to fully compensate you. That's why having experienced counsel is important to properly evaluate if a settlement offer is fair (or even worth making) and then to litigate if necessary to protect your rights.
Most injury claims do not take years to settle, assuming your treatment is finished. Once all of your damages are known, a demand can be made and the insurance companies will begin their negotiations. A lawsuit usually must be filed within two years of the accident and will be filed sooner if settlement is not going to occur to keep the matter moving. You should expect your counsel to stay on top of the matter and keep the matter moving forward.
The purpose of a settlement or lawsuit is to recover monies to compensate you for your losses due to the accident. There are several types of potential compensable damages: property, income, medical treatment (both incurred and possibly future treatment if any of your injuries are permanent), pain & suffering, and even potentially mileage due to travel for your treatment. Another type of damages is known as "punitive damages," which are awarded to punish the at-fault parties for their wrongdoing and to deter others from acting similarly. These punitive damages are generally only awarded when the actions are grossly negligent or on purpose (so a simple car accident would not qualify). Punitive damages are capped at $350,000.
Virginia Law requires you to carry $25,000 in bodily injury insurance on your auto insurance policy for the injury or death of one person and $50,000 for injury or death of two or more people. This minimal insurance is unfortunately usually inadequate. It is important for you to carry more than the minimum to cover any accident that may be your fault and also to carry more than the minimum for underinsurance/uninsured coverage. This second type of coverage is for cases where the at-fault person does not have enough insurance. If this is the case, then your insurance coverage will kick in to cover your damages. Exactly how much insurance to have is a personal choice, based on what you can afford and how much you have in assets. The more you have to lose from a lawsuit (because you can be made to pay any overage in damages), the more you should have in insurance. At a minimum we recommend at least $100,000 in single coverage, but encourage more if feasible. You will find the premiums are not that much higher. You may also want to investigate getting an "umbrella" policy, which is a cheap insurance policy that only comes into play if your other insurance is exhausted - think of it as a safety net.