Brian White | November 2, 2020 | Auto Accidents
If someone else caused your car accident, that party might be liable for your damages. Damages include physical injuries, financial losses, and non-economic damages. Victims of car crashes can file personal injury lawsuits to recover compensation for their damages.
However, most injury claims related to traffic accidents settle without a lawsuit or trial. The parties reach an agreement. The liable party pays a specific amount in consideration for the victim releasing all claims against the party.
Unfortunately, settlement agreements and car accident claims are not that simple. Settlement agreements are binding legal contracts. Therefore, it is wise to understand your legal rights and all available options for legal remedies before you enter into a car accident settlement agreement.
Five FAQs About Car Accident Settlement Agreements
Before rushing to sign a settlement agreement with an insurance company for a car accident claim, make sure that you consider the following five things:
1. The Insurance Company Has Legal Representation
You may never speak with a lawyer or see a lawyer as you negotiate a settlement with the insurance company or sign a settlement agreement. However, the insurance company has lawyers to draft and review settlement agreements. Because these attorneys represent the insurance company, settlement agreements favor the insurance company.
The agreement will contain language that favors the insurance company’s best interest. For example, the agreement may contain broad language about the release of all claims. It may contain strict language regarding mandatory arbitration, which does not favor you.
However, if you hire a car accident attorney, your attorney shapes the terms of the settlement agreement to be fair to you. Your lawyer works to ensure that the terms of the agreement protect your legal rights and best interests.
2. Initial Settlement Offers are Generally Too Low
Most initial settlement offers are below the value of the car accident claim. Suppose the insurance company believes that the value of your injury claim might be higher. In that case, it could offer a quick, low settlement amount before you have an opportunity to discuss your case with a lawyer.
It can be difficult to know the value of your injury claim if you are not familiar with calculating economic damages and non-economic damages. The insurance adjuster is not going to tell you the actual value of your claim.
Before signing a settlement agreement, it benefits you to discuss your claim with an attorney. Unfortunately, victims who are enticed by the offer may not understand that the settlement agreement is final.
3. Settlement Agreements are Final
Settlement agreements are binding legal contracts. When you sign a settlement agreement, the insurance company can enforce all of the contract terms in court. The settlement agreement contains language that states you agree to settle a legal claim and give up your right to file a lawsuit.
Once you sign the settlement agreement, you cannot “take it back.” There would need to be fraud or other legal causes of action to revoke the settlement agreement, which is extremely unlikely. In most cases, accident victims who sign settlement agreements without an attorney’s assistance are “stuck” with the agreement’s terms.
4. Settlement Agreements Cover Other Claims and Parties
The settlement agreement covers all past, current, and future claims arising from the car accident and anything related to the car crash. Therefore, you are releasing claims that you might not even know exist when you sign the agreement. Also, the agreement covers all parties who could potentially have liability for the accident.
For example, if you discover that a defective airbag contributed to your injuries, the agreement may bar you from suing the manufacturer under a product liability claim. Likewise, suppose you discover that you could have sued the driver under another cause of action that might have resulted in additional compensation. In that case, that claim is gone too once you sign the settlement agreement.
5. Settlement Agreements Cover Unknown Injuries
The settlement agreement also covers all known and unknown injuries. If you discover that you need additional surgery, you are responsible for the surgery cost and your missed time from work. Likewise, if you discover that you sustained a permanent impairment that prevents you from working full time, you have no recourse for the lost income or the other damages related to the impairment.
Because a settlement agreement is final, you should not sign a settlement agreement until you complete your medical care. Your doctors should state that you have reached maximum medical improvement and issue an impairment rating if you are disabled. Until you complete treatment, you cannot know the extent of your injuries and damages.
Proceed with Extreme Caution
If the insurance company offers you a settlement agreement, it is in your best interest to have a lawyer review the agreement. Do not let the insurance company cheat you out of the money you deserve by convincing you that you do not need a car accident attorney to represent you. It would never think to enter a settlement agreement that its attorneys have not carefully reviewed.