When involved in an auto accident and it’s due to the negligence of another driver, victims are entitled to compensation for injuries, medical bills, and other losses. When insurance companies get involved, things move quickly—sometimes, too quickly. This can often mean that accident victims fall into a trap and make mistakes they didn’t know they were making.
Even though accident victims feel a sense of relief that money is coming their way, signing a release could mean they are signing away their rights. Let’s take a look at:
- What is a Release?
- What to Know Before Signing an Insurance Company Release Form
- Why Medical Release Forms Jeopardize Personal Injury Cases
- Car Accident Personal Injury Representation in Lancaster, PA
What is a Release?
A release form, sometimes called a waiver, is a legal document prepared by an insurance company in which an accident victim gives up – or releases – certain legal rights. The purpose of a release is to end or avoid a legal matter and allows all parties to move on.
In the case of a car accident, the insurance company of the at-fault driver will prepare the document. It may be included in a settlement offer or agreement, which is designed to get ahead of and shut down the possibility of a personal injury case. It is a tool that insurance companies use for a quick settlement, so they do not have to pay fair or full compensation to the victim.
Insurance companies will usually ask the victim to sign the release form before making any payments. While the release form and settlement offer may seem attractive to a car accident victim so they can recover medical expenses and property damages from the accident, the first offer for a settlement almost never covers all incurred expenses after an accident.
Injuries and medical treatment take weeks, months, even years, to fully play out and manifest themselves. An accident victim should never sign a release before they have either fully recovered from their injuries or they have reached maximum medical improvement for their injuries. By getting a motor vehicle accident victim to sign a release before the full extent of their injuries, disability, losses/damages and pain and suffering are known, almost always, an insurance company is getting away with paying the injured person less than the full compensation they need and deserve.
The types of releases that may be prepared after an accident include:
- Medical Authorization: A medical authorization allows the insurance company access to the accident victim’s medical history and files. This can be risky for an accident victim and may jeopardize their personal injury case.
- Release of All Liabilities and Claims: A release of all liabilities and claims completely absolves the insurance company of any responsibility outside of the terms of settlement set forth in the release. There is no “second bite of the apple,” so signing a release like this terminates an accident victim’s ability to recover further compensation for their injuries, losses and damages.
- Property Damage Release or Check: A property damage release is common after car accidents when the vehicle was totaled or severely damaged. The insurance company may send a form or an actual check to the accident victim. Typically, by signing the form or cashing the check, the victim agrees that the insurer’s liability, with respect to the property damage aspect of their claim, is finalized.
Usually, but not always, the bodily injury component of an auto accident claim is separate and distinct from the property damage aspect. However, an accident victim signing such a release without having an experienced personal injury attorney review the document can be risky.
What to Know Before Signing an Insurance Company Release Form
If you were involved in a car accident that resulted in injuries, you should not sign a release form until you’ve sought legal advice from an experienced and well-credentialed personal injury lawyer. A personal injury attorney can help you navigate the insurance claims and personal injury case process.
Here are 5 things you should know before signing an insurance company’s release form:
- Insurance Companies are Looking Out for Themselves: The important thing to remember when dealing with an insurance company and an insurance claims representative or adjuster is that they are looking out for the best interest of the insurance company, not you. Their goal is to pay as little compensation as possible, after an accident, and protect the insurance company from further financial responsibility. A premature release form is a sneaky tactic to avoid paying full value for an accident victim’s injuries, damages and losses.
- Signing an Authorization Opens Up Your Medical History: When you sign an insurance company’s medical authorization form, typically, you are giving them access to your entire medical history and records, regardless of whether or not the information is relevant to your current bodily injury claim. By allowing a top injury and accident lawyer to review the authorization before signing it, the language can be limited to allow the insurance company to only have access to your relevant medical records and information.
- A Release “Releases” Further Obligation to Pay: Many release forms have language that lets the insurance company and the at-fault driver “off the hook” for further payments after an accident. This means that even if you discover additional injuries caused by the accident after signing the form, or if your injuries worsen over time, you are not eligible to receive additional compensation. When you sign a release form, typically, you are permanently giving up the right to pursue a bodily injury claim, and file a personal injury lawsuit, if necessary, against the insurance company and driver.
- Non-Admission of Fault: Release forms usually state that all parties are not admitting fault for the accident and resulting injuries. While this doesn’t affect the settlement amount, it’s stating the parties agree to the terms without blaming each other.
- All Decisions are Final: Once you sign a release form, you cannot change your mind or go back to the insurance company with additional claims. A release form is a legally binding document. Often, injuries associated with a bad accident don’t surface until weeks or months after the accident. Back injuries, for example, may not be felt immediately—and this type of injury can lead to a lifetime of pain, suffering and limitations.
Why Medical Authorization Forms Jeopardize Personal Injury Cases
When it comes to a personal injury lawsuit, signing a medical authorization or release form can jeopardize the case for several reasons. If you were injured in a car accident and sign a medical release form, you put your case at risk for the following reasons:
- You’re giving the insurance company private information they can use against you. The insurance adjuster wants to review your medical records to find “useful” information to deny or reduce your claim. Remember, they are trying to minimize their financial responsibility and will use anything they can find to reduce your compensation. Most medical authorizations are very broad in scope, meaning that, if an injured accident victim signs the document, the insurance company has a legal basis to request and receive any and all medical records pertaining to the plaintiff. Insurance companies will try to get their hands on anything and everything they can, knowing that, the more information they obtain, the greater the chance there is something in these documents they will be able to use against you.
- Medical records sometimes don’t tell the entire story after an accident. If you sign a medical authorization or release in the days after your accident, you may not know the full extent of your injuries or what the treatment plan is from your doctor. Recovering from injuries after an accident can take months, and you will not have the full scope of your medical situation until you either fully recover from your injuries or you reach maximum medical improvement. The best personal injury attorneys know not to allow their clients to sign these blanket releases, when to provide the plaintiff’s medical documentation to the insurance adjuster or representative and what records to furnish them.
- Most importantly, signing a release may weaken your claim. When you give the insurance company authorization to search through your medical history, you increase the chance there will be disputes about your right to fair compensation. This is especially true if the motor vehicle accident aggravated, or materially worsened, a pre-existing condition.
Pennsylvania law allows an accident victim to recover for losses and damages suffered as a result of an aggravation of a pre-existing condition. Thus, for example, if you have a bulging disc that becomes herniated as a direct result of the trauma from an auto accident, the medical treatment, income loss and pain and suffering attributable to the material aggravation or worsening is fully compensable as part of a bodily injury claim stemming from the subject accident.
Insurance companies love to try to muddy the waters when it comes to “aggravation” claims, and injured accident victims play right into their hands when they sign an open-ended medical authorization or release. The best accident and injury attorneys know how to combat this topic and build strong and valuable “aggravation” claims.
Car Accident Personal Injury Representation in Lancaster, PA
If you were injured in a car, truck, bus or commercial vehicle accident, reach out to the attorneys at Georgelis Injury Law Firm. Insurance companies may try to convince you to sign a release form, jeopardizing your right to fair compensation and preventing you from pursuing your personal injury claim and filing a lawsuit, if necessary. Don’t sign the release form before consulting with our firm. There is absolutely no charge for our time, and we will sit down with you, discuss your situation in depth and answer all of your questions.
We know the recovery process after a car accident can be stressful and difficult for you and your family, but don’t settle—with the insurance company or for anything less than the best auto accident lawyers in Lancaster, PA. Reach out to us today so we can help you recover the compensation that you need and deserve. We are available 24/7 to help you understand your rights and give you the peace-of-mind that has become the hallmark of Georgelis Injury Law. Call 1-800-HURT-NOW for a free and no-obligation consultation and discussion concerning your case. Check out our 150+ 5-star Google reviews to see how our clients fare when they “CALL GEORGELIS FIRST!”