As a general rule of thumb, you should not sign anything following a car accident without consulting an attorney who is representing you. The forms you will be asked to sign may be called “releases” or “authorizations,” but, either way, it is not in your best interest to sign them, especially if they are presented to you by the liable party’s insurance agent or attorney. There are three basic releases you may be asked to sign. Understanding what exactly they “release” is important to protecting your injury claim. The three releases you may encounter following your car accident are a medical authorization release, a release of all liability and claims, and a property damage release.
What the Medical Authorization Release Allows
In order to prove that you are actually injured and that your injuries are as severe as you say they are, you will have to share some medical records with the insurance company. However, signing a blanket authorization is not the way to do this. A medical authorization release gives the insurance company permission to view all of your medical records, not just those pertaining to your current claim. Giving the liable party access to the following information could actually hurt your claim in the long run:
- Past medical records. The liable insurance company will sift through your medical history to find evidence of previous complaints that could explain your current injuries. For example, if you suffered a back injury in the crash and the investigator finds that you have seen a doctor in the past for back problems, they could use that to lower your settlement.
- Doctors’ notes. You have an expectation of privacy when you discuss your injury with your doctor, but if you release your medical records, even the notes your doctor takes during your examination can be read and used by the opposing party in an injury claim. If, for example, you tell your doctor that a certain treatment has been helping or that you don’t feel as much pain as you did, that will be reflected in his notes and the insurance company could use that to claim that you have recovered and deny or decrease your claim.
- Office visit history. The investigator will be interested in finding out how often you visit your doctor or the emergency room over a given period of time to gather evidence that you are a hypochondriac or suffer from ongoing medical problems not caused by the car accident.
The best course of action to take regarding your medical records is to work with an attorney to provide the specific records that are actually relevant to your claim, rather than authorizing the release of all of your records.
When to Sign a Release of All Claims and Liability
Once you have agreed to a settlement amount, you will be asked to sign a form that prevents you from seeking more money or additional damages, called a release of all claims and liability. The key to this form working in your favor is when you sign it. An insurance agent may ask you to sign it before you have been offered a favorable settlement. Once this form is signed, there is no going back, so do not sign it until you have consulted an attorney and are satisfied with the settlement offer. Each accident claim’s release of claim and liability will be different and will ideally be drafted by your own attorney.
A Property Damage Release Will Close Your Damage Claim
If your vehicle is damaged in the accident, a damage claim will be made. If the insurance company determines that the cost to repair your car exceeds the value of the car, they will “total” your car, or offer you a check for the value of the car rather than repairing it. You may be asked to sign a release indicating that you accept the damage award and that the claim is closed; however, your cashing of the check is also taken as a legal indication that you are accepting the offer and closing the claim. If your vehicle is not totaled, you will likely not be asked to sign a release and the insurance company will pay the repair shop directly to settle your claim. Again, once the payment has been made, you release your right to seek further payment.
Words to Live by: Don’t Sign Anything
While the other guy’s insurance company will do their best to convince you that you don’t need an attorney and that it’s okay to sign a few forms, it is not in your best interest to do so. Call the experienced car accident attorneys at Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys before you make your first move.