When you're injured in a car accident caused by another driver's negligence, you may be approached by the insurance company with a settlement offer a few weeks after the incident. Making the decision to sign this release of claims is not one that should be taken lightly. Once you've accepted the offer, you're not allowed to request more money if your accident-related expenses are higher than anticipated.
About the Release of Claims
A release of claims is a form that you must sign to formally accept a settlement offer compensating you for accident-related injuries. It releases the responsible party from any future liability for your injuries.
It's never a good idea to sign a release of claims early in the process. Once you've signed away your right to future litigation, you'll be left with no options for future recourse if you realize you've made a mistake.
The Severity of Car Accident Injuries Can Be Hard to Predict
The primary reason you shouldn't sign a release of claims soon after an accident is that injuries that initially seems to be quite minor may very well turn out to be more serious than you expected.
For example, a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that occurs after a blow to the head. Most people with a concussion make a full recovery, but a small number end up with a complex disorder known as post-concussion syndrome that causes ongoing issues with headaches, dizziness, and cognitive difficulties. This can cause you to have extended absences from work or to have difficulty with daily tasks such as driving and caring for your children.
Whiplash is another common car accident injury that can create unexpected complications. You may recover fully, or you may experience chronic pain for several months or even years. You may require physical therapy and ongoing prescription medications, in addition to added time away from work.
Even if you feel fine and expect to soon return to your daily routine, it's not advisable to accept a settlement offer until your care providers are positive you've reached what's known as maximum medical improvement (MMI). This means you've either recovered fully or have reached the point where your condition is stable and doctors can reasonably predict the scope of any future treatment that will be required.
Pain and Suffering Damages Are Often Undervalued
After an auto accident, it's fairly easy to calculate your lost wages and medical bills. However, a personal injury claim also includes compensation for pain and suffering. This category of non-economic damages refers to both the physical pain of your injuries as well as the emotional trauma of being involved in the accident.
Pain and suffering damages are generally calculated using a multiplier of your medical expenses, based on the severity of your injury. In many cases, this compensation can amount to thousands of dollars. If you're offered a settlement soon after the accident, it's a safe bet that the insurance company is trying to save money by offering less than what your injuries are truly worth.
Legal Representation Is More Affordable Than You Think
Another common reason why people sign a release of claims soon after an accident is that they assume they can't afford a lawyer to negotiate a higher settlement. However, this simply isn't true.
Personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. This means they receive a percentage of your settlement in exchange for their services. There is no upfront cost for legal representation, which means you won't be forced to pay hefty legal bills when you're already struggling to make ends meet while recovering from your injuries.
When you've been injured in a car accident caused by another driver's negligence, hiring an attorney is an investment in your financial future. Without someone to advocate for the full compensation you're legally entitled to receive, you risk not having the financial support for any ongoing difficulties.
Neblett, Beard & Arsenault is committed to helping Louisiana residents receive fair and timely personal injury settlements.