A common question lawyers receive from potential clients is whether the client should accept an offer made by the defendant's insurance company shortly after an accident. Insurance companies commonly attempt to encourage an early settlement of some claims by offering a relatively nominal settlement, such as $1000 or $1500. It is not my intent, nor am I able, to give anyone advice about whether they should accept an offer from an insurance company and settle their claim. There are, however, some considerations that consumers should be aware of before simply accepting such an offer from an insurance company.
First, when consumers accept an offer to settle their claim shortly after the accident, they are assuming that they know clearly the nature and extent of their injuries and whether any further medical treatment may be necessary. Accepting the insurance company's offer will require providing a release. One purpose of such a release is to forever bar any further payment to the injured party, even should their medical condition become worse or be more serious than originally believed at the time the release was given and signed. Therefore, consumers must be absolutely certain that they will not require further medical care and the amount they are receiving will adequately compensate them for their physical and emotional pain, suffering, scarring, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life, as well as any out-of-pocket expenses they have may have incurred up to that time. Also expenses likely to be incurred in the future as a direct result of treatment related to the injuries received in the accident.
Second, many general releases prepared by insurance companies are so broadly worded that they include language releasing, not only the insurance company and party directly involved, but other potential parties whether named in the release or not. Signing such a broadly worded general release has the potential of unintentionally releasing claims against the injured party's uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier, as well as claims for medical malpractice resulting from the treatment received in the accident.
Additionally, in cases involving more significant damages, particularly when there is a relatively small bodily injury policy covering the defendant, consumers sometimes attempt to avoid hiring a lawyer and they work out a settlement with the defendant's insurance company accepting their policy limits. Sometimes they do this with the intention that, following their settlement with the defendant, they will seek further compensation for their injuries from their own uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) motorist policy. This has the potential for actually preventing them from being able to seek such damages. You see, Florida statutes require that notice be given to the UM/UIM motorist carrier before settling with the defendant and giving them a release of liability. The injured party must obtain the consent of their UM/UIM carrier before such a settlement occurs in order to preserve their right to seek further damages under their own policy of insurance. Florida recognizes a presumption of prejudice to the UM /UIM carrier when the required notice and consent to settle are not obtained.
Consequently, consumers would be well advised to seek the advice of a qualified personal injury attorney before attempting to settle their injury claim on their own.
Attorney James W. Dodson is a Clearwater, Florida personal injury trial lawyer with over 20 years experience representing clients in all types of injury claims including vehicle accidents, fall cases and wrongful death. He is the author of three books offered FREE to consumers as a guide to dealing with accidents and insurance. Visit his website at JWDodsonLaw.com for FREE copies of these books, other articles, videos, news and commentary.