Over six million car accidents occur each year in the United States. Thankfully, a good share of them involve only property damage and not personal injury. Unfortunately, one in three accidents involve personal injury to the driver or passengers. Two out of every ten accidents lead to fatal injuries. Knowing that the odds are good that at some time during the years you will be driving you may be involved in a motor vehicle accident, it is good to understand what you should and should not do.
One of the worst things you can do after an accident is prematurely settle your claim. If you are injured in a car accident, most often an insurance adjuster will contact you and will likely offer you some money to resolve your claim. But, in exchange for that payment, the adjuster will require that you sign a release of liability.
Simply, a release of liability is a legal contract between you and the responsible driver and their insurance provider that provides that, in exchange for the money paid to you by the insurance company, you are giving up any and all claims for compensation for injuries or damages from the accident now or in the future.
From the injured party’s standpoint, a quick payment is often desired. So, they are often motivated to sign the release of liability immediately. This ploy is all to the benefit of the insurance adjuster and the company they work for, and it is not to your benefit at all. The amount of money offered is usually far below the reasonable value of the claim. Being a legal document does not mean it has to come from an attorney or be reviewed by one to be enforceable. Releases of liability usually will have general terms that release the insurance company from any further compensation for the accident.
Once an injured party signs a release of liability, they are almost always binding and legally enforceable. With very few exceptions, it does not matter whether you read the release of liability or understood it, or whether you had an attorney review it or not, releases are enforceable. Apart from very minor accidents, it’s advisable for injured parties to get the advice of an attorney that deals with personal injury claims rather than talk directly to the adjuster or sign anything, most importantly a release of liability. Again, the adjuster’s goal is to settle the claim as quickly and cheaply as possible.
If questions come up when you have an accident, make an appointment with a competent personal injury attorney. At Carlson & Burnett, we have a team of attorneys who specialize in personal injury and accidents that will explain compensation available (medical bills, out-of-pocket costs, lost income, money for Pain and Suffering and Disability etc.) Injuries can get worse over time, which is why signing a release of liability too early can be a big mistake.