I read today about a case in New York in which the New York State Supreme Court sided with the insurance company and upheld a Release for $200.00. Yup, $200. The claimant was not at fault for the car accident and did not immediately realize the extent of his injuries. Shortly after the accident, the claimant accepted the $200 check not realizing that by so doing he was giving up any and all rights to pursue further damages against the driver that injured him.
The claimant’s attorneys argued that the Release was obtained by fraud and mutual mistake. They argued that the claimant was unaware of the nature of his injuries and lacked any time to seek adequate treatment before the insurance company asked him to sign the Release for $200. The New York State Supreme Court disagreed and despite being injured through the recklessness and negligence of someone else, the claimant will be left with no more than the hefty sum of $200.
Insurance adjusters often seek to close a case with a quick and inexpensive settlement without informing you of the real value of your case. You should speak with a personal injury attorney before signing any form of Release with an insurance company.
Also, keep in mind that the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulations maintains certain requirements when an insurance company attempts to negotiate settlements with unrepresented parties.
From Insurance Regulation 73:
E. No Insurer shall commence or continue negotiations for settlement of a claim directly with a Claimant who is not legally represented, unless or until the Insurer has given the Claimant written notice of the applicable statute of limitations. In addition to said initial notice, written notice of said statute of limitations shall be given to First Party Claimants at least thirty (30) Days and to Third Party Claimants at least sixty (60) Days before the date on which any such statute of limitations may expire.
F. No Insurer shall represent to a Third Party Claimant that his or her rights may be impaired if he or she does not execute any form or release within a given period of time; provided however, nothing in this subsection shall be deemed to prohibit the Insurer from notifying the Third Party Claimant of any applicable statute of limitations.
As this New York case reminds us, once you have signed a Release, it is almost always too late for an attorney to help you. In very rare instances, can a Release be voided. For that reason, if you have been injured in a car accident, it is imperative that you hire an experienced personal injury attorney to represent your interests. And always, speak to an attorney before singing any major contract, including a personal injury Release.
As a former insurance adjuster, I know that the insurance companies use aggressive tactics to keep you form hiring a personal injury attorney and then try to force you into a quick and cheap settlement for far less than your claim is worth. Do not fall victim to these tactics!