The negotiations with an insurance company after a vehicle accident can cause as much stress as the physical pain from your injuries. You may be tempted to accept the first settlement offer just to stop the phone calls. Unfortunately, a quick settlement could lead to uncompensated expenses related to the accident and no legal recourse available to you or your family.
Accident injuries could become lifelong problems even if they initially seem like minor injuries. An inability to collect the compensation needed to cover medical expenses can financially devastate families. Everyone needs to understand how any settlement may affect their future rights to additional compensation.
Potential Risks of Quick Settlements
After you sign a settlement contract, you usually cannot receive more compensation for any new injuries that arise or compensation for diagnosed injuries that become worse than expected. If the signed settlement was a full and final release of claims, this means that you accepted the settlement as payment for all current and future expenses related to the accident.
Some victims feel the insurance company coerced or threatened them into signing the agreement. If you feel this was the case, you can file a complaint with the Georgia Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner. However, a complaint will not break a signed contract or force the company to pay any new expenses that arose after the agreement.
An accident victim can sue an insurance company for more money after an agreement, but there are risks. You must have clear proof that the insurance company committed fraud or was guilty of tactics that led to you to believe you had to sign the agreement. The judge may dismiss the case and require you to pay all legal fees for yourself and the defendant.
The judge can charge witnesses for all court expenses under the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 (Rule 11). If the court believes the plaintiff signed the contract willingly, and the insurance company behaved appropriately, the judge may feel the lawsuit was frivolous. Lawmakers designed Rule 11 to discourage people from filing cases without evidence.
Potential Opportunity for Additional Compensation
Sometimes, there are options for victims after they accept a settlement and then suddenly receive unexpected medical bills or other expenses related to the accident. Some contracts have a stipulation in the agreement that allows the victim to accept the settlement for existing injuries but keep the right to reopen the case if new expenses arise.
The contract usually includes a monetary amount lower than what insurers would offer on a full and final release of claims. A lawyer can review your contract to see if this opening exists. Any new claims must occur within the two-year statute of limitations allowed in Georgia for personal injury lawsuits.
It is also possible to sue another party involved in the accident, but not included in the settlement. The lawsuit cannot include compensation for any damages already paid through the first settlement, but it allows you to recover what your settlement neglected.
For example, investigators discovered after an accident that the other vehicle had a mechanical defect that caused it to become difficult to control. However, the driver still received charges because of intoxication or reckless driving. If your settlement was with the insurance company of the driver, you could still file a second claim against the manufacturer for the defect.
Settlements may seem generous because they offer a lump sum of money. Unfortunately, people do not always realize how their medical costs will accumulate or how much work time they will miss. At Wells and McElwee, we can review your prior settlement to help you determine your options. Contact us today.