Hasner Law | Car Accidents | May 27, 2019
In Atlanta, a person injured in a car accident caused by someone else’s wrongful actions has the right to take legal action seeking compensation. Most, but not all, of these personal injury lawsuits end in a settlement in which someone (usually, but not always, an insurance company) pays the injured person money in exchange for the injured person dropping and/or relinquishing a legal claim.
A settlement, in other words, is a contract. When car accident cases settle, both sides usually sign a settlement agreement describing exactly what they’ve agreed upon. At a bare minimum, a settlement agreement recites the amount of money one side pays to the other, and the legal rights the side being paid gives up by accepting the money. More often than not, however, settlement agreements are a bit more complicated. In this blog post, we describe five things every car accident victim ought to know—but often doesn’t—about settlement agreements.
Settlement Agreements Are Final
Once the parties sign a settlement agreement, there is no going back. There is a binding contract and it’s usually very clear about its terms. One of the terms settlement agreements usually make 100 percent clear is that the lawsuit or legal claim being settled is done, finished, kaput.
Accident victims who signed a settlement agreement with an insurance company without the help of a lawyer sometimes come to us asking if they can “get out of it” or “take it back” and sue for more money. Our answer, almost always, is that their chances of revoking or invalidating a settlement agreement and its provisions about not suing anyone ever again for this accident are close to zero, at best.
Settlement agreements are final agreements, which is why we tell people never to sign one without getting legal advice first.
Settlement Agreements Cover Legal Claims You Didn’t Make
The part of the settlement agreement that the party paying money to you cares most about is called a release. In fact, depending on legal practice where you live, some settlement agreements have the title settlement agreement and release, or simply release.
The defendant in a car accident case usually demands a release that covers all legal claims (what lawyers call causes of action) that could exist now or in the future against the defendant, arising out of or relating to the car accident, whether or not the injured party ever actually asserted those claims against the defendant.
In other words, if you learn after you sign the agreement that you could have sued the defendant for negligence and also for strict liability, but you only sued for negligence, a settlement agreement still gives up both of those claims. You don’t get to come back later and make legal claims you should have made earlier.
Settlement Agreements Cover Injuries You Didn’t Know You Had
Like the release of legal claims described above, the release portion of a settlement agreement also typically demands you give up claims relating to all injuries and other damages arising from or relating to the car accident. This means that if you sign a settlement agreement believing the accident caused you a relatively limited injury, only to discover later that you suffered a much worse injury than you thought, you are out of luck.
The insurance company or opposing party wants to make sure it’s paying you once, and only once, for your car accident injuries. It is extremely rare for insurer or opposing party to agree to leave wiggle room for you to assert new injuries down the road, especially if you try to negotiate the settlement agreement yourself instead of through a qualified attorney.
Settlement Agreements Can Even Cover People You Didn’t (Know You Could) Sue
Some settlement agreements go further still in closing the door on any future legal claims you might have by naming parties other than the defendant as people against whom you are giving up your legal claims. In Georgia, a release must make clear that it lets other parties off the hook from their potential liability to you.
Still, if you don’t read a settlement agreement carefully or know where to look, you may not realize it says that when you take money from Insurance Company X, you are giving up your ability to sue Insurance Company Y and Party Z for additional damages. This, too, is a reason why it is so important to run any settlement agreement past an attorney or, better yet, to retain an attorney to conduct settlement negotiations for you.
There is nothing more unfortunate than when someone asks for our help at Hasner Law PC and it turns out they’ve already signed away their rights against parties who would otherwise have owed them significant damages.
Settlement Agreements From Insurance Companies Are Stacked Against Your Rights
Never trust a form contract. It’s always written in favor of the party who asks you to sign it. That’s especially the case when it comes to form settlement agreements from insurance companies. If an insurance company gives you one of these agreements to sign, beware. You can count on it containing the broadest possible release along the lines we’ve described above.
But, that’s not all. Insurance company settlement agreements will also typically contain terms making it difficult for you to dispute whether the company has honored its obligations, such as mandatory arbitration clauses and provisions giving the insurance company discretion over how, when, and to whom settlement funds are paid. In contrast, insurance companies will typically give your attorney more latitude in shaping the terms of a settlement, which protects your rights.
Speak With an Atlanta Car Accident Lawyer From Hasner Law PC Before You Sign a Settlement Agreement
Because of the nature of personal injury law, at Hasner Law PC, our car accident attorneys in Atlanta have a complete grasp of the ins-and-outs of car accident settlement agreements. We make sure our clients understand what they’re getting by signing a settlement agreement, and what they’re giving up. Don’t put your own legal rights at risk by agreeing to a settlement of your car accident claim before speaking with an experienced attorney.
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