Scenario: You were in an accident that was not your fault. You had a mountain of medical bills and the insurance company for the at-fault party is offering a quick settlement. Though you are not yet fully recovered, you decide to take the offer and you sign the release form. A short while later you find out your injuries are much more severe than you had initially realized. But you've signed the release form. What happens now?
Settlement and Release: Maryland Personal Injury Claims
In general, once you sign the release form, you release the defendant and the insurance company from all future claims. That is, if you later find you are unsatisfied with the settlement then you cannot file a lawsuit or re-open a claim. The case is done. If you signed the release prior to filing a lawsuit you cannot then file a lawsuit. If you signed during the pendency of a case, the lawsuit will end at that point.
Moreover, once you accepted a settlement agreement it may become very difficult to back out of that agreement. If the agreement was reached in good faith and you were not subjected to fraud or duress then it may be very difficult to back out of that agreement.
Before you sign a release waiving all future rights to compensation, it can be incredibly helpful to contact an attorney to discuss your case. Consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand your legal rights and help to ensure that you are not taken advantage of when you are in a vulnerable position.
Recent Changes to Maryland Law Governing Personal Injury Claim Releases
In an attempt to combat unfair tactics employed by insurance adjusters, the Maryland Legislature passed a law that permits a person to get out of a release document if it was signed within 30 days of the injuring incident without the assistance or advice of an attorney. The injured party has 60 days after signing the release document to rescind their signature.The injured party must notify the insurance company in writing that he or she is voiding the release. In addition, the injured party must return any money that he or she received from the insurance company as a result of signing the now-void lease.
The law also prohibits insurance companies from attempting to negotiate a settlement with someone who is still a patient in a hospital or sanitarium within a 15 day period following the incident. In addition, the insurance company cannot "obtain or attempt to obtain a general release of liability from the patient" or "obtain or attempt to obtain any statement, either written or oral from the patient, for use in negotiating a settlement or obtaining a release." Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-401.1(b) (LexisNexis 2015).
Any agreement that is obtained by an insurance company cannot then be "used in evidence in any court action relating to the injury and may not be used for any purpose in any legal action in connection with the injury." Id. at § 5-401.1(c). The statute also states that a release doesn't apply to a subsequent tortfeasor who is "not a party to the release," and "[w]hose responsibility for the individual's injuries is unknown at the time of execution of the release" or "[w]ho is not specifically identified in the release." Id. at § 5-401.1(d).
Other Methods of Reopening a Maryland Personal Injury Case
These some are legal procedural methods that can be used to attempt to "re-open" a case after a dismissal, judgment, or jury verdict:
- Dismissed with Prejudice vs. Dismissed without Prejudice: If a judge dismisses your case, after a motion to dismiss, for example, the options that you have depends on whether or not your case was dismissed with or without prejudice. A case dismissed with prejudice is considered a final judgment and can be appealed to a higher court. A case dismissed without prejudice can be refiled after the errors that got the case dismissed are corrected.
- Appeals: After a final judgment has been entered in a case, such as after a motion for summary judgment or a jury verdict, an appeals court can hear the case. Appeals court do not decide questions of fact or re-try a case, instead appeals courts decide points of law. So for example, if the appeals court decided that a trial court judge improperly excluded a piece of evidence, the appellate court may reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings, such as a new trial.
If you are concerned that the insurance company is taking advantage of you, or if you have been injured or in an accident, please do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Gilman & Bedigian to discuss your case. We help our clients through all the phases of the litigation process, including dealing with the insurance company. Our attorneys have years of experience handling personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Contact our office today for a free consultation.