In the immediate aftermath of a car accident in Maryland, you can count on whatever insurance companies that are involved in the collision to get in touch with you. They will often make a settlement offer that is designed to seem like it will cover the costs of your losses and make you whole, once again. It rarely does, though, leaving you undercompensated, in dire financial straits, and in search of legal options.
If you have already accepted a settlement offer from an insurance company after a car accident in Baltimore, your legal rights are limited. However, that does not mean that they do not exist; there are some instances where you can continue to protect your legal rights to compensation, even after taking a settlement offer.
The Initial Insurance Offer After a Baltimore Car Accident
The initial aftermath of a car accident happens the same way in Baltimore as it does in the rest of the United States: if you were hurt, you will spend the next few days recovering from your injury. As you near the end of your recovery, you will hear from the insurance company of the driver who was likely responsible for the crash. The insurance company will make an offer that, if you choose to take it, will require you to sign a release that will end whatever legal rights you had from the car accident.
This initial offer might seem like a good deal. It often covers all, or nearly all, of the costs of the medical care that you have received so far, and is offered at the time you feel you most need the money. This can make the offer enticing, and often seems too good for the unwary to turn it down.
Why Initial Offers are Inadequate
Unfortunately, the initial offer is designed to save the insurance company money by undercompensating you. Recall the important fact that insurance companies are for-profit companies whose sole reason for existing is to make money. They make money by maximizing the amount of premium payments they receive and by minimizing the amount they pay out in insurance claims.
The initial offer made by insurance companies typically only compensates you for the medical bills that you have already accumulated, and sometimes for the costs of repairing your vehicle. It does not compensate you for the wages that you have lost while you were hurt and on the road to recovery, and it does not compensate you for the medical bills that you are likely to accumulate in the future. The offer also overlooks the costs of your pain and suffering, which can be considerable.
As a result, months after accepting an insurance company's initial offer, many people find themselves struggling to make ends meet, despite the money from the offer.
Your Legal Options If You Accepted an Initial Offer
If you accepted an insurance company's settlement offer and signed the release form where you agreed not to pursue your legal rights, filing a lawsuit to get the compensation that you now realize you need is tricky. However, it is not impossible and there are still some avenues that an experienced attorney knows to look down in order to protect your legal rights. Some of these options are available precisely because insurance companies in Maryland were abusing their power and pressuring vulnerable accident victims into signing away their rights.
Quick Settlements Made Without an Attorney are Voidable
The biggest protection that Maryland law provides accident victims is to prohibit aggressive settlement techniques that insurance companies have been known to use.
This law is embodied in Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-401.1(a)(1), and makes a release form voidable if it was signed without the assistance of an attorney within 30 days of the accident. The form is voidable for 60 days after it was signed. If this 60-day period passes, then it becomes a binding release form.
While the release is still voidable, you can choose to cancel it at any time by following the steps outlined in § 5-401.1(a)(2), which requires the cancellation be made in writing and be accompanied by the return of any money that was paid in the settlement offer. Taking these steps voids the release from the date the writing was mailed to the insurance company.
Settlements or Statements Made Immediately After the Accident
Additionally, Maryland law limits how people and their insurance companies can even approach and talk to injured accident victims. Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. §§ 5-401.1(b) and (c) prohibit adverse parties from visiting you in the hospital within 15 days of the injury in order to attempt to
- negotiate or even try to talk about a settlement;
- get you to sign a release of liability form, or even try to get you to sign one; or
- try getting a statement, whether written or verbal, for use in settlement negotiations.
If a statement or settlement agreement is obtained in violation of any these prohibitions, the law bars it from being used in court or in any other legal proceeding that is in any way related to your injuries.
Baltimore Car Accident Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
Signing a release form and accepting a settlement offer from an insurance company can seem like a good idea in the moment. It can even seem like a life-saving decision, as your medical bills begin to stack up and you find yourself in need of immediate financial help. The money you stand to receive in the settlement offer can seem like just what you need to make a full recovery.
This is exactly what insurance companies want you to think when they offer you a settlement amount. They know, however, that it will pale in comparison to the compensation that you need and deserve to make a full recovery, and that the release form you sign is far more valuable. Getting around this release form is not easy, but it can be done. Contact the Baltimore personal injury attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian to understand your options.