Car accidents often result in devastating injuries, property damages, and emotional trauma. Victims often file claims with their insurance company. The insurance company will often offer the injured party a settlement agreement to cover the person’s medical bills, property damage, and other losses.
At first glance, this may seem like a good idea. It avoids the need to file a potentially lengthy lawsuit within the right timeframe and gets money in your pocket quickly.
But there are many reasons why signing a settlement agreement could be a bad idea. Read on for some important information, including five things to know about Tampa car accident settlement agreements. But remember, only an experienced personal injury attorney can help you adequately preserve your rights and get the compensation you deserve after your car accident (or motorcycle accident).
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What are Tampa Car Accident Settlement Agreements?
In Tampa Bay and throughout Florida, insurance companies and injured drivers enter into car accident settlement agreements. These binding agreements are “voluntary” and compensate the injured party for losses after an accident. In exchange, the injury victim agrees to bring no other claims related to the accident against the insurance company or anyone else.
The agreement should cover all damages stemming from the car accident. Of course, this includes past medical bills. However, it also includes damages for future medical care that will be necessary as a result of the accident. Moreover, damages include lost wages from missed work and even pain and suffering.
1. Settlement Agreements are Binding Contracts
The document you’re signing is a legally binding contract, with all the power of Florida law behind it. While a quick, lump-sum payout from the insurance company can be very tempting, you need to remember the importance of what you’re doing. You can’t back out of the settlement agreement. You are bound by its terms.
These are final agreements. And that can hurt you down the road. If you change your mind and feel you deserve more, you will not be able to revisit the agreement or seek more compensation.
Before signing a settlement agreement—or any legally binding agreement—you should consult with an attorney. Insurance companies have been doing this for decades. They know the ins and outs of these agreements. Their bargaining power is stacked heavily against you. Moreover, Florida case law is constantly changing, and recent case decisions could impact the viability of the agreement or certain terms.
2. A Settlement Agreement is a Release of Liability
Settlement agreements are releases of all liability related to your claim, now and in the future. The terms won’t require that anyone admits fault. But they will require that you, the claimant, release any and all parties from other claims related to the car accident. Not only are you releasing the insurance company, but you are also releasing the at-fault driver and any other driver or person involved in the accident.
Not only that, but you are also waiving liability for parties you may not even know could be liable for your injuries. If you later discover that another driver was at fault and a potential claim could be filed, you’re still out of luck. You signed the agreement, and that party is off the hook. This means you have potentially waived a massive amount of compensation you were entitled to.
3. Settlement Agreements Bar Claims for Other Injuries
Car accidents often result in obvious injuries, such as broken bones, sprains, concussions, or loss of limbs. However, there are often lingering medical issues that may not be so apparent. For example, you may have herniated a disc in your spine. While it may not be symptomatic now, it could get worse in the future. In other words, you don’t know about it now. Not yet.
When you enter into the settlement agreement, it will more than likely cover the injuries you don’t know about. In our example, treatment for herniated discs and potential surgery amounts to thousands upon thousands of dollars in medical treatment. By jumping the gun and signing a settlement agreement, you could be waiving your damages related to this medical treatment.
In such cases, it’s in the insurance company’s interest to settle your claim quickly.
4. You Could Be Getting Shortchanged
Hopefully, it’s become clear how powerful the settlement agreement is. However, your insurance settlement offer could be less than what you are legally entitled to.
It bears repeating that damages are an extremely complex area of the law. Your settlement amount should include compensation for all economic damages. This includes medical treatment for your injury, lost wages from time off from your job, and many other types of costs and expenses.
Moreover, you must be compensated for your non-economic damages. This covers less tangible injury, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, PTSD, other mental issues, and more. These types of damages are debilitating, enduring things. You should get all of the compensation you deserve.
Finally, not only will the insurance company try to short-change you, but they may also attempt to place some of the blame on you. Notably, Florida is a “comparative negligence” state, meaning your fault could reduce your damages in a lawsuit. Therefore, while they may have a basis to reduce it, it does not mean they are correct.
5. You Can Negotiate the Terms of the Agreement
Finally, like any legally binding contracting, you have negotiating power. If you don’t like a term, you can attempt to have it altered, deleted, or expanded upon. If you don’t like the amount offered, you may be able to get them to increase the price.
But remember, the odds are stacked against you. The insurance company likely has the experience and bargaining power here. Nonetheless, remember that you are not required to accept their first offer or agreement.
Car accident settlement agreements are serious documents, and these are complicated issues. To ensure you aren’t waiving your rights and that you’re maximizing the recovery you’re owed, schedule a consultation with an experienced Tampa Bay personal injury lawyer.