By: Karen Piso Nadeau, Esquire
The Question & Answer
Our Cambridge, Massachusetts law firm, Nadeau Harkavy LLC, has received an increase in calls from victims injured in accidents asking if they should sign the release sent by an insurance company so they can get some money. The scenario described is that the insurance company is offering them some money because they were hurt. The insurance company emailed them a release to sign to get the money, and the insurance adjuster has called them several times about signing the release.
The question they ask is:
Should I sign the release the insurance company sent me to settle my personal injury case?
The answer to this is:
No, you should never sign a release until you consult with a personal injury attorney about your legal rights and what signing the release means for you. By signing a release, you may be giving up your legal rights and a lot of money that you deserve due to the harm caused by another individual or entity.
The Practice of Low-Ball Offers to settle Your Personal Injury Claim
The insurance companies have taken a more aggressive approach in limiting their exposure and the amount of money they are obligated to pay out by offering settlements to victims harmed in accidents close in time to the accident date. The insurance companies are dangling carrot sticks in front of vulnerable people who have been injured through no fault of their own. Often, the injured parties are still dealing with their injuries from the accident and still treating. They are mentally and physically not themselves and are weak. They are in no position to make decisions in their best interest. This is when the insurance company strikes. It is early in the process, and their goal is to get to you before a personal injury lawyer advises you of your legal rights.
The insurance company presents the release so that the injured party sees a dollar sign, an amount of money that they think they can get quickly and easily. Sometimes it is $500 or $1,000 or maybe $3,000. The insurance company sending you this release usually insures the responsible or at fault party who caused the accident and your injuries. For an example, in an auto accident, the insurance company policy may insure the ride share driver that ran a red light and crashed into your vehicle. The insurance claims representative will pretend to care about you and offer you a quick settlement. They may email you a document to sign to get you some money. However, the truth is that they could care less about you. Their allegiance is to their insured, the at fault party. In the example above, their allegiance is to the ride share company they insure and the ride share driver they also insure.
The insurance company wants to quickly close the claim to prevent you from pursuing the true value of your case by having you sign away all your rights before you consult an experienced personal injury lawyer. This could be devastating to you and your family’s well-being. The insurance company does not tell you that once you sign the release, you can never go back to them and ask for more money if your injuries turn out to be more serious and you need more treatment or can’t work and lose wages. They also don’t tell you that the release places all your medical bills and health insurance liens on you to pay. You may not even realize that you are legally obligated to pay back a health insurance lien for thousands of dollars out of the settlement money. The insurance company does not care. These are your problems, not theirs. They just want you to sign.
This practice of sending releases to injured victims close in time to the accident has become too frequent lately. It may be bad faith and deceptive practices by the insurance company and protects the very people who caused the accident and caused your injuries and also allows their insurance company to pay a lot less than they should for the harm caused. It hurts the deserving injured people and their families. This blog will highlight some of the risks you take if you sign a release sent to you and why the insurance company wants you so badly to sign on the dotted line. These are the things that the insurance company- pretending to care about you- will never tell you.
Three Things the Insurance Company Does Not Tell You
- The amount of money the insurance company is willing to pay you to sign the release is likely a lot less than the real value of your case.
When the insurance company dangles this release in front of you, you are often still recovering from the injuries due to the accident and need more medical attention. The nature and extent of your injuries from the accident have not yet been determined. Most of our clients do not realize that the method used to evaluate the value of your case involves a careful analysis of their medical treatment and review of medical records and bills. Your diagnosis, prognosis, future medical needs, lost income, disability, and any permanent injuries need to be considered. Your case value is usually a lot higher than the money the insurance company is dangling in front of you.
The length of treatment, the number of times that you need to treat, the doctors you saw, the type of treatment, the diagnostic testing you have- all of these items are very important when deciding what is a good value for your case. When they offer you a settlement early on before you have recovered and received all the medical care that you need, you can’t determine the value of your case. You are not at a medical end result. Medical injuries develop over time. Your injury may be more serious than initially thought. For example, an ankle sprain may really be a broken bone or a shoulder injury may turn out to be a rotator cuff tear. You may need surgery. You may be unable to work for a period of time and lose income.
Without surgery, your case may be worth $10,000 or $20,000. However, with surgery, it may be worth $100,000 or $200,000 or more. Typically, the longer you need to treat, the more your case is worth. Time out of work is also taken into consideration. Following a surgery, you may be unable to work for months and lose thousands of dollars in wages. I can promise you that when the insurance company sends you the release dangling some quick cash, they are not considering any of this. They just want you out of their way and your file closed.
- You are signing all your rights away if you sign the release sent to you.
Most of our clients do not understand the legal significance of the release and what it means if you sign it. When you soon after the accident sign a release for a quick $3,000, you are waiving all your rights against the insurance company and parties that caused you harm. For example, if you are injured because someone ran a stop sign, you are giving up all your rights against the person who ran the stop sign and their insurance company. This could be financially devastating for you if you accept the short money offered by the insurance company.
We represented a woman who was offered a $15,000 settlement and sent a release to sign. She was pretty badly injured with some facial injuries and hand injuries when she tripped and fell. She did not sign the release, retained my law firm, and we settled her case for $175,000. If she signed the release the insurance company sent to her early on, she would have been stuck with a $15,000 settlement and could not get more money as she would have signed all her rights away. We have many examples of this happening. More recently, there has been an uptick in the insurance company sending injured victims releases to sign away their rights before they have an opportunity to consult with an attorney and retain counsel. The insurance company has one goal: to pay you as little as possible for your injuries.
- You are agreeing to be responsible for all your medical bills and any medical liens or health insurance liens related to your injuries suffered in the accident.
When the insurance company dangles that carrot, they fail to mention that you may have outstanding medical bills or there may be a health insurance lien that is legally your responsibility to pay. The release that the insurance company wants you to sign has language that says by signing the release, you agree that you are responsible for all your medical bills and health insurance liens. Also, you are agreeing that the insurance company is not responsible. If anyone tries to recover for your medical bills or medical liens from the insurance company, you are agreeing to indemnify and hold the insurance company harmless. This means you agree the insurance company has no responsibility for your medical bills or medical liens and you agree to take full responsibility.
You may have a $3,000 release sent to you and see it as quick easy money. However, you could have thousands in medical bills owed and outstanding. Also, there may be a health insurance lien for thousands of dollars on your case. This means the insurance company is legally obligated to pay this health insurance lien from your settlement money. You may sign for $3,000 and the lien could be $2,000 or more, eating up your settlement money. The insurance company may not tell you about the lien until after you give them the signed release.
Closing Remarks & Lessons Learned
If an insurance company sends you a release to sign offering you money on your bodily injury claim against the responsible party, it is almost certainly not in your best interest. You should not sign this and contact an experienced personal injury attorney to advise you of your legal rights. Most victims calling us say that it did not feel right to get the release and the insurance company was acting aggressive for them to sign. Trust your instincts. Do not sign. Call a skilled injury lawyer for a free consultation.
At Nadeau Harkavy LLC, we have over 60 years combined experience representing injured people and their families when they have been involved in an auto accident or other type of accident. We have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for our clients over the years to help them get on with their lives after suffering the consequences of a serious accident. We make sure everything is done to protect your interests while you and your family concentrate on getting better. We handle all types of car accident cases including wrongful death and brain injury. We represent drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, as well as other types of car accident cases such as scooter and skateboard cases. We also handle other types of injury cases such as trip and fall, slip and fall, dog bite, construction site, and catastrophic injury accidents. If you or a loved one has been harmed through no fault of your own, call us today for a free consultation about your legal rights at 617-674-7640.