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What Happens When You Sign a Release Agreement When Settling a Personal Injury Claim?
The overwhelming majority of personal injury cases result in a settlement. It is estimated that less than five percent of personal injury cases actually make it to trial. The reason this figure is so low is because trials may be risky and are unpredictable. Even the most experienced personal injury attorneys can be wrong as to what a jury will award on a particular case.
An injury in one part of the country might be worth substantially less than the exact same injury in another part. Personal biases, geographic conditions and education levels of jurors will all impact the ultimate outcome of your case at trial. The makeup of every juror is unique, and therefore, every jury will evaluate the case differently.
Settlement agreements can be a great tool to eliminate some of this uncertainty. Settling a case allows both sides to assess the risks and rewards prior to entering into a final settlement agreement. It allows the parties to control the outcome and know exactly what they are going to get or are giving up.
An experienced personal injury attorney can estimate what the potential exposure is to the other side if the case was tried to a jury. The attorney can then use this number to determine a fair settlement. An attorney who has proven trial results and jury verdicts, will be able to demand higher settlements because of his proven ability to obtain jury verdicts and expose the other side to risk.
Do not assume that that the at-fault party, insurance company, or Defendant will keep your best interests in mind. In fact, it is more than likely that they will be looking out for themselves and/or their client or insured. In reality, insurance companies are in the business of making a profit and owe their shareholders a legal duty to do so. Having a skilled personal injury attorney to communicate with them, will not only save you time and energy, but it is also likely to secure you more money in a settlement.
Should You Settle Your Injury Case Without a Personal Injury Attorney?
If you were seriously injured you should not settle your case without consulting an attorney. The reason it is so important to seek an attorney’s opinion before accepting a settlement offer is because of what is required to settle the case. All insurance companies and defendants will require the execution of a release agreement also known as a release of liability form. The release agreement is actually a contract which eliminates all claims of the injured party as to the parties released. The release of all claims is in exchange for the payment of the agreed settlement amount. More often than not, the release agreement prevents the injured party from bringing a lawsuit for all injuries “whether known, unknown or to be known.” This can be devastating for an injured person who does not appreciate the full scope of his or her injuries at the time the release agreement is signed.
The release agreement is actually a contract which eliminates all claims of the injured party as to the parties released.
It is critical to have an experienced personal injury attorney evaluate the full extent of your injuries. An experienced injury attorney will be able to efficiently gather the necessary documentation and evidence to present to the other side. Your attorney will examine, research, and determine the severity of your injuries and how they will impact your life not only today, but for years to come. Failure to complete this step can substantially diminish your settlement.
Never assume your injuries are temporary. Many personal injuries such as broken bones, soft tissue strains, lacerations, head injuries and spine injuries, will have long lasting effects on your daily life that you may not recognize now. As the body ages and deteriorates over time, injuries that were once minimal or non-recognizable may begin to present themselves or become worse.
Release agreements always contain language that prevent you from claiming any future or surprise medical expenses. This can be especially troublesome if you have failed to seek the appropriate medical treatment and are unaware of needed future rehabilitation programs or medical procedures. More often than not, future medical treatment is one of the most significant costs an injured person will have to bear. If you fail to include future medical expenses in your settlement evaluation, you will likely have to finance them yourself later.
Furthermore, it is important for an attorney to evaluate the impact of an injury on your particular lifestyle. A specific injury might warrant more money if it has a larger impact on your ability to engage in employment, leisure, and even daily activities. For example, a broken hand might be more damaging to a musician, surgeon or artist who relies on his or her hands to earn a living as compared to a school teacher. Likewise, the amount of time missed from work and the time spent treating can also play a big factor in determining a fair settlement based on the impact it has on your life. These types of “general damages” cannot be easily quantified and for this reason, insurance companies typically tend to undervalue them. An experienced attorney will know how to value these damages.
These companies are hoping that you undervalue your injury claim and accept their offer absent the opinion of an experienced advisor.
You are also prohibited from claiming money for future pain and suffering after you sign a release agreement. If you were injured and were to accept a settlement offer, you would be barred from seeking additional money in the future if your injuries were to persist or become exacerbated. A skilled attorney always includes future pain and suffering in his or her settlement evaluation. This is why many insurance companies prefer that you do not to have an attorney. These companies are hoping that you undervalue your injury claim and accept their offer absent the opinion of an experienced advisor. In short, the insurance companies are hoping that you settle your case cheap and are looking to take advantage of your inexperience.
Should You Settle Your Case Early?
For the reasons stated above, you should not settle your case early. You must wait until you have completed all treatment. Once you sign a settlement and release agreement, there is no second bite at the apple. It is important that you wait until you know what your baseline health is after medical treatment is completed. Your baseline is your new normal. It is either you returned to full health, like you were prior to the injury, or you getting as good as you are going to be. It also allows you to determine if future medical treatment will be required and if it should be considered. It is impossible to accurately value your case until you know this information.
In sum, insurance companies are looking to settle your case cheap and quickly before you even know the full extent and expenses associated with your injury.
Insurance companies know this as well and hope to take advantage of injured individuals. It is a well-known insurance industry tactic to have insurance company employees attempt to settle claims immediately after an accident or injury. Insurance companies may offer a settlement of a few thousand dollars in the first few weeks following your injury in a hope to cut off your claim. In sum, insurance companies are looking to settle your case cheap and quickly before you even know the full extent and expenses associated with your injury.
Signing a Settlement and Release Agreement May Prevent You from Recovering Other Insurance Money Available
Signing a settlement and release agreement will release the parties named in the agreement. This always includes the at-fault party responsible for the injury. Often times, insurance companies will include other individuals or companies in the release agreement as well.
If you sign a settlement and release agreement, it may prevent you from recovering from other parties who may be liable and their insurance policies. For example, if you were injured in a car accident and enter into a settlement and release agreement with an at-fault driver under his personal insurance, you may not be able to recover additional insurance money from the owner of the vehicle later.
The same could be true if the at-fault driver was working at the time. Once the agreement is signed, you will not be able to claim money from his or her employer’s insurance policy. Likewise, if you sign a release agreement, you will not be able to recover under additional insurance policies covering the at-fault party. An example would be an umbrella policy that provides additional coverage to an individual over and beyond what his or her personal automobile policy may provide.
If You Sign a Release Agreement Without Consulting A Personal Injury Attorney You May End Up With Much Less Than You Thought
Most injured individuals do not appreciate what their responsibilities are with respect to repaying health insurance companies and medical providers. This includes private health insurance, MediCare, AHCCCS and hospitals providing emergency treatment. All these entities may claim a right to repayment or payment from your settlement funds. If you are not aware of what you owe and to whom you are required to pay, settling your case and signing a release agreement could leave you with nothing.
You should never settle your case until you actually know what you will keep in your pocket.
Insurance companies will not tell you this information. Insurance companies will not tell you that your settlement funds may be reduced substantially and even entirely. An experienced personal injury attorney will evaluate your repayment responsibilities and provide you with the amount of money you will actually get to keep if you accept a certain settlement amount. You should never settle your case until you actually know what you will keep in your pocket. This is true whether you are trying to settle your claim yourself or even if you have an attorney.
Contact an Experienced Scottsdale Injury Lawyer Today
Selecting a skilled attorney is one of the most important steps you can take to maximize your settlement agreement. You should not try to negotiate a claim or injury case on your own. It takes decades of claims negotiating and trial experience to truly understand how much a given personal injury is worth. More importantly, you should always retain an attorney who has a history of winning trials. Insurance companies and other adversaries recognize an attorney’s ability to bring a case to trial and win. Without the ability or understanding to bring a case to trial, you are likely to receive a much lower settlement offer.
Rest assured that the attorneys at Scottsdale Injury Lawyers have the needed experience to secure the settlement you deserve. In addition, the Scottsdale Injury Lawyers legal team is always prepared to bring your injury case to trial if needed. If you or a loved one has been injured by another, do not attempt to resolve the matter on your own. Contact Scottsdale Injury Lawyers today for a free, no obligation, consultation. We only earn a fee if we recover or win the case for you. A skilled personal injury attorney is available now to discuss your case.
About the author: The content on this page was provided by Scottsdale personal injury attorney and civil rights lawyer Tony Piccuta. Piccuta graduated with honors from Indiana University-Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, Indiana (Ranked Top 35 US News & World Report 2018). Piccuta took and passed the State bars of Arizona, California, Illinois and Nevada (all on the first try). He actively practices throughout Arizona and California. He is a trial attorney that regularly handles serious personal injury cases and civil rights lawsuits. He has obtained six and seven figure verdicts in both state and federal court. He has been recognized by Super Lawyers for six years straight. He is a member of the Arizona Association of Justice, Maricopa County Bar Association, Scottsdale Bar Association, American Association for Justice, National Police Accountability Project and Consumer Attorneys of California, among other organizations.
Disclaimer: The information on this web site is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The information on this page is attorney advertising. Reading and relying upon the content on this page does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, you should contact our law firm for a free consultation and to discuss your specific case and issues.