Q. What does it mean when I sign a release?
A: In insurance law, a release is a document that certifies that an insurance company has settled a claim to the satisfaction of the person who filed the claim. Basically, a release “releases” the insurance company from responsibility for any future claims that might be made by the person signing the release.
When you sign a release you immediately lose the right to file a claim for the cost of any future medical expenses, or any other damages, that were the result of an accident. This includes any injuries or property damage that may not have been apparent at the time the release was signed.
Q: Aren’t insurance companies required to pay all claims made by someone who was injured?
A: No. Insurance companies are required to pay claims, but they aren’t required to be generous or even fair. Always remember that it is in the insurance company’s interest to pay out as little of its money as possible. Getting you to sign a release before you become aware of the possible long term effects of your injuries, or before you learn of any property damage that wasn’t immediately obvious, is the way for the company to hold onto its money.
Q: What is a claims adjuster?
A: A claims adjuster is someone that works for an insurance company and whose job is to investigate claims made against his or her employer and then to settle those claims on terms that are favorable to the insurance company.
Claims adjusters are not required by law to be honest or even ethical when dealing with people who have a claim against an insurance company. They will use “every trick in the book” short of outright fraud to get you to sign a release.
Q: I don’t think my injury is too serious, and the insurance adjuster has made a generous offer to settle my claim. Why shouldn’t I sign a release?
A: Never lose track of the first rule of insurance claims: The Insurance Adjuster Is Not Your Friend! The adjuster wants to settle a claim quickly and before you have the chance to talk to a personal injury attorney or anyone else that might question the wisdom of signing a release. If the adjuster is offering you an early settlement, there is a good chance that the adjuster believes that your claim could cost his employer much more if it remains unsettled until some future date.
Q: I was injured in an auto accident and my car was a total loss. Can I settle on my automobile claim but not my claim for my injuries from the same accident?
A: You can, but that would not be a very wise choice. A release state that your car is being replaced and the adjuster may tell you that your medical expenses are still being covered, but the “small print” in the release agreement could very well release the company from responsibility for any of your medical expenses that arise after the date the release is signed.
Q: What about claims adjusters from my own insurance company?
Claims adjusters from your insurance company are usually more interested in you than an adjuster from another company would be. Your company’s adjuster will usually need you to sign several forms that are necessary for processing your claims against his company but, as discussed in previous sections, be sure of anything that you sign!
Q: I was injured in an auto accident. How can I protect myself from being forced into an early settlement?
A: Anyone injured in an accident, whether it was in an automobile or the result of a fall in a shopping center or anywhere else, should consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after the accidental injury occurs. Personal injury attorneys will use their knowledge of the law, and their familiarity with the tactics of insurance companies, to make sure that your case is settled on terms that are most favorable for you rather than those favorable to some insurance company.