If you’ve got a Virginia car accident claim, and you’re close to settling, you know that the process can be overwhelming. Even if you have an attorney, trying to resolve your injury case can add to the trauma that you’ve already been through. However, one of the last steps involved usually involves reviewing and signing a Settlement Release required by the car insurance company.
While it may not seem like a big deal, Settlement Releases should be treated like any other contract. And you must make sure to fully read and understand the Release before endorsing it. Should you not, you’re risking giving up a lot of rights.
To be clear, this article is purely informational. Issues that arise from Settlement Releases can be endless, and this article is not meant to be taken as legal advice. Our goal here is simply to address a few of the common issues that we see in Settlement Releases. Ultimately, you need to work specifically with your attorney to decide whether you should sign any particular release.
Wait, they are saying that they aren’t at fault?!
Most settlement releases will contain a “denial of liability,” clause in it. Such a clause typically includes language such as, “by signing this release, you acknowledge that the defendant and his or her insure expressly deny fault in this accident, and nothing in this release is to be construed as an admission of fault. The parties are settling at this point because it is in their mutual best interest to resolve this matter now.”
Often, our clients are surprised by this language. Also, often, they are upset that they’d be forced to sign this type of language. However, the reality is that this is a very common clause in settlement releases. Afterall, settling is a compromise by both parties, the injured party and the defendant. The benefit to the victim is that they get guaranteed money and won’t be forced to try their case. The benefit to the defendant is they have limited exposure and they get to deny fault.
While we understand this language is not ideal. Should you decide you want to settle your case and move on, it’s language you will likely have to approve. However, remember that Settlement Releases are like any contract, and you can always refuse to sign. So long as you’re willing to take your case to trial.
They want me to waive, “any and all claims” against everyone!
A vast majority of Settlement Releases that we come across are written overbroadly. Despite us having discussed settlement between our injury victim client and the defendant regarding a car crash case, the insurance release wants us to “any and all claims, known and unknown, arising or possibly arising,” between “the victim and the defendant, their insurer, agents attorneys, heirs or anyone else.”
In response, we typically require that the insurance company limit this type of language as narrowly as possible to get back to the issue at hand: a car accident case between the victim and defendant. With that said, the insurer will try to push back on the modification of any language in their release. They typically respond with “this is our standard release. We can’t change that.” While every case is different, and the exact terms we agree to will vary, we rarely accept a car insurance company’s “standard release.”
What do they mean that they want us to “hold them harmless and indemnify them against any and all claims?”
One thing that insurance companies will try to do is limit their insured’s (and their own) liability as much as possible. So, they will ask you to hold them harmless and indemnify them against all claims arising out of the crash. What that may mean in plain language is that if someone else sues their insured (or them) because of this crash, they are asking that you waive their responsibility and pay them if they get sued! Of course, this can have huge implications.
In some instances, it may arguably make sense. For instance, if you owe medical bills or health insurance liens, it’s not fair that the defendant or their insurer would be responsible if you’ve settled your claim with them, and they’ve already paid you for your damages. Indeed, as we’ve said, you are responsible for your outstanding medical bills and health insurance liens.
But what if there’s a third vehicle involved in the crash whom the defendant caused injuries and damages? In that scenario, holding the defendant harmless and indemnifying them for that claim is simply unfair.
So, you must be very careful before you blindly sign away your rights. Again, if you’re involved in a complex injury claim, this is why attorneys are so valuable. And we recommend you have your attorney provide you specific guidance about your case.
While not all Settlement Releases will require this, some insurers will want you to sign a confidentiality agreement (or Non-Disclosure Agreement “NDA”). This will require that you not discuss the case or settlement with anyone. Should you violate this agreement, you will be liable for damages.
Confidentiality agreements differ wildly in their substance and form. And whether you should sign one will depend on the facts of your case. Of course, this is yet another issue you should address with your attorney.
There’s a ton of other issues to consider.
As discussed above, Settlement Releases can present many issues. And this article is only meant to be informational and not inclusive of all of the issues. Therefore, we think it’s important for you to talk to your attorney before signing your own release. And don’t blindly sign one without considering the language.
Still have questions?
Make sure to check out our Personal Injury & Criminal Defense Practice Pages where we’ve answered many other questions you likely have. James Abrenio is a Fairfax-Based Personal Injury & Criminal Defense attorney who practices throughout Northern Virginia. You can learn more about James Abrenio, some of our Prior Results, and Read Our Reviews. Make sure to contact us at Ph. 703-570-4180 for your Free Consultation.