When you're injured in a car accident and the at-fault party's insurance company offers you a settlement, it usually comes with a requirement to sign a Release of Claims form before the insurance company will issue the check. In Washington State, this form is also known as a "Settlement and Release of Claims Agreement." Signing it might seem like little more than a formality—and you may feel tempted because, after all, you need the money. But the ramifications of a Release of Claims form are quite important, and if you sign too quickly, you could be robbing yourself of significant compensation.
What Is a Release of Claims Form?
A Release of Claims form is a document that releases the other motorist and their insurance company from liability and any further legal obligation with regard to your injuries. By signing it, you effectively agree not to pursue any further damages related to the car accident in exchange for the settlement check. In plain English, it means once you sign the form and receive your settlement, that's all the money you'll get for your injuries.
In one sense, the Release of Claims seems reasonable enough. It simply means that once you've agreed on a settlement, the defendant is protected from you coming back and suing them again and again. But what if the settlement offer isn't enough to cover your total costs? What if your recovery incurs more expenses after the fact that you didn't anticipate? By law, the at-fault driver is still responsible for paying those expenses—but if a Release of Claims form is already signed, you've waived your rights to collect any more money. So in that sense, it can be a very dangerous document, especially if the insurance company tries to settle quickly. An overeager insurance company that presents you a Release of Claims form is usually trying to push you into accepting less money than your injuries are worth, then legally blocking you from coming after them for more.
Why You Shouldn't Be Rushed Into Signing a Release of Claims
When you have no income because you're unable to work and your medical bills are piling up, it's perfectly understandable to feel pressured to sign the release and get your money quickly. But here's why that's not a good idea:
- You may not know the full extent of your injuries. You can't anticipate any possible complications that might arise or extended treatments that might be needed.
- There may be long-term repercussions from your injuries. Some types of injuries can trigger other health problems that may not surface for years.
- You don't know about your future income. Your injuries could potentially hinder your ability to work for the long term, and your settlement may need to account for that possibility.
A settlement that is truly fair will take into account not only your current needs but also your anticipated future needs, not to mention the more intangible losses incurred by pain and suffering, psychological trauma, loss of consortium, and more. Bottom line: if you sign a Release of Claims form too quickly, you could end up being severely under-compensated for your injuries.
Never Sign a Release of Claims Form Without the Advice of Your Attorney
Granted, at some point, you'll likely have to sign a Release of Claims form before getting your check. The key is in knowing when it's safe to sign it—and the best person to tell you when you have a fair settlement is an experienced personal injury attorney. That's why we highly recommend that you never sign a Release of Claims before having an attorney review your settlement offer to help you decide whether or not it's in your best interests to sign, whether further negotiations are needed, or whether you need to go to court.
The Max Meyers Law Firm can advise you on what constitutes a fair settlement for your case, and we can help you get the full amount of compensation you deserve. Contact our offices to schedule a free consultation or call us at 425-399-7000.