After a car accident, you're already shaken and disoriented, and there are many details to review, especially if you're recovering from serious injuries. If you weren't at fault, you're relying on the insurance company of the driver who was to step up and evaluate your claim promptly and provide a proper settlement.
Unfortunately, it shouldn't be a surprise that your needs aren't high on the carrier's list. It could take much longer than expected to settle a claim for injury compensation. The insurance adjuster may
even engage in unfair negotiating tactics to try to reduce or deny it.
When you and the insurance provider finally agree on a settlement amount, it won't just mail a check. You need to finalize the settlement and sign a release of all claims form.
What's a Release?
The release of all claims is a legal document prepared by the adjuster or company’s attorney. It can also be referred to as a liability waiver form. In this document, you agree to resolve your differences with the carrier about your claim in exchange for the settlement amount you'll receive, and you release the negligent driver and insurance company from any further liability.
The release can be a straight-forward document of only a few pages, or up to 15 pages long. Further, even a short release might contain language you don't want.
Terms You Need to Understand When Signing Your Release
The release will most likely contain a fair amount of legalese, which can be difficult to understand. However, it's important to know what you agree to, because your settlement concludes your case. Here are some of the most common paragraphs and legal terms contained in these releases.
Amount of Your Settlement
Your release of all claims form should identify the parties to the settlement and have a brief reference to the details of your accident, such as the date and time it occurred and the drivers involved in the collision. It should also clearly state the amount of money you'll receive.
Release of All Claims
You release all the parties to the settlement from further liability to compensate you for any claims you have against them. This includes compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
By releasing the negligent driver and insurance company from responsibility, you agree the settlement is a final resolution of your claim. You cannot reopen it in the future even if you discover your injuries were more serious than previously thought.
Indemnity and Hold Harmless
If your release has an indemnity and hold harmless clause, you agree to release the other driver and their insurance company from any third party claims against them as a result of your accident. You acknowledge your responsibility to pay these additional claims. Third-party claims could include medical liens for your injury treatment, Medicare and Medicaid claims, and any attorney fees you owe.
Not Admitting Liability
A release of all claims form may have a provision stating the insurance company and the other motorist don't admit any liability for causing your accident or injuries by agreeing to settle your claim. This is a common provision in car accident and other personal injury releases.
If your release contains a confidentiality paragraph, you agree to keep the terms of your settlement private and not to discuss it with anyone. The only exception to this is that you would be permitted to talk about the agreement with your lawyer or accountant.
There will most likely be a paragraph in the release where you waive your right to a jury trial to settle your claim. If you've already filed a lawsuit, you agree to dismiss it.
Importance of Having a Lawyer Review Your Release
Before you agree to a settlement of your claim and sign the release of all claims form, it's beneficial to seek counsel with a skilled car accident attorney for advice on whether the settlement and release terms are fair to you. Additionally, don't sign any other documents from the insurance company—such as a medical release—or agree to the insurance adjuster’s request for a recorded statement without first consulting with a lawyer. You could be waiving important legal rights and these actions might weaken your claim.
If your lawyer finds objectionable terms in your release, he'll negotiate to delete or revise them with the insurance adjuster or the company’s defense attorney. This can delay your settlement but will protect your interests.
Once the release is finalized, your attorney will have you sign it. You probably need to do so in front of a notary public. After all the parties sign off, the insurance company will issue your check.
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