You may have read our prior blog posts about insurance companies and their antics. The bottom line is that insurance companies are not here to help you after you have been in a car accident. They are here to make sure they pay you the least amount possible. Insurance companies are publicly traded companies, which means they are out for the best interest of their shareholders—not their insured or someone who has been injured as a result of their insured’s actions. Their policies contain one page that tells you how you are covered. The rest of an insurance policy goes over all the ways in which you are not covered by the respective insurance.
Much like in employment cases, releases are written by attorneys. A release from an insurance company will bar you from ever bringing another claim for the accident in which you were injured. The settlement and release will contain language that will bar you from ever receiving any further compensation in the future even if you later discover you have additional injuries. The language will further state that, by signing the document, you waive all rights to file another legal claim against the at-fault party or the insurance company in relation to your accident. You are agreeing that the money you receive satisfies the respective claim and any other claims you might want to bring at a later time. Put simply, there are no second chances after signing a release. It means that the case is over and you cannot come back later and make additional or even different claims arising out of the same incident.
This can be very troubling for a lot of reasons. Most people injured in an accident do not have the experience to negotiate with an insurance adjuster or attorney. Besides, they have all the power—they control the money and how much you get compensated if you do not have an attorney representing you. Bottom line is, an insurance company will significantly low-ball you if you are not represented by an attorney. I have listened to insurance adjusters try and hoax my client in to taking a low-ball offer when they did not know I was on the phone. Insurance adjusters and attorneys will use phrases such as “C’mon this is a great deal,” and “You make X amount of money. This offer is a week’s worth of your pay!”
In cases without an attorney, insurance companies will not come close to fully compensating you for your injuries if you are not represented by an attorney. They will play games and deceive you. An experienced attorney will guide you through this process. Here are more reasons why you should never sign a settlement and release after a car accident without an attorney:
You may not be finished treating.
The ultimate goal for you as an injured client is to get better emotionally, physically, and financially. An insurance company may try and settle your claims early so they do not have to pay for your injury expenses down the road. You want to make sure that your are fully finished treating before you submit a demand to the insurance company in order for you to be fully compensated. In injury claims, the other party’s insurance should pay for the costs of your treatment. Therefore, you want to make sure that they pay for all the costs of your treatment.
Your injuries may get worse.
We receive calls about this all the time. A potential client calls our office and tells us he or she was injured in an accident, settled with the insurance company, and then their injuries took a vast turn for the worst. Their initial injuries lead to secondary injuries down the road. Take for instance a head injury: you may just have headache symptoms now, but down the road those headaches can lead to a traumatic brain injury diagnosis. You may also be suffering from emotional symptoms that the insurance company does not understand, or fails to take in to account. You do not want to be in a position where you settle with an insurance company and then cannot bring a claim later for worse injuries caused by the same accident. An attorney who represents injured victims should go through an entire diagnostic process with you and help you get the treatment you need.
You may have liens on any settlement you receive.
This is especially true if you have Medicare or Medicaid. A lien is a right to obtain money or property from another person to secure a debt owed. When these types of social insurance programs pay for your medical bills, they will almost always have a lien on the money you obtain after an accident. This is a very confusing process—one that you should not face alone. If you are represented by an attorney who routinely deals with these programs, the attorney should be able to reduce liens on your settlement.
The insurance company may be acting in bad faith or vexatiously refusing to pay.
Insurance companies routinely commit bad faith. They have a duty to act in good faith and fair dealing. Insurance companies routinely send releases that release themselves from all future liability after receiving your demand, which is bad faith in itself. They must not delay, discount, or deny payment to you without a reasonable basis. Under fist party insurance (your own insurance), bad faith is, generally, a refusal to pay a claim without a reasonable basis or even if the insurer has a reasonable basis for denial, failing to properly investigate the claim in a timely manner. For third party insurance, bad faith is, generally, failure to defend or indemnify or settle claims within the policy limited without a reasonable basis, or failing to properly and timely investigate or defend the claim. Types of bad faith conduct can include: deceptive practice or deliberate misrepresentations to avoid paying claims, deliberate misinterpretation of records or policy language to avoid coverage, unreasonable litigation conduct, unreasonable delay in resolving a claim or failure to investigate, and so on. If an insurance company is acting in bad faith, you may have a separate claim against them and could potentially receive money in excess of the opposing party’s insurance policy.
Don’t forget Underinsured Motorist (UIM) and Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage!
Even if an opposing party’s insurance pays you the policy limits (which rarely happens), you may be able to go after compensation from your own insurance. You can make a claim for unpaid expenses under your own automobile policy if you have underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage. For instance, if the opposing party has a $25,000 policy limit, and you have $45,000 in medical expenses, you should make an UIM claim on your own policy. A personal injury attorney can navigate you through this process.
While this may sound confusing, and it is… we can help you. This is our job and we do it every day. If you need help navigating through your car accident claim please do not hesitate to give us a call at 816-200-2900.
Adam Krause is a personal injury, mass tort, business litigation, and employment discrimination attorney who practices in Kansas City, Missouri. He graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Law and has been practicing law for several years now. Adam Krause has made a career of taking complicated litigation and presenting it in the most elementary terms for a jury of your peers to understand. Learn more about his experience here.