If you have been hurt in a car accident and then accepted a settlement offer from an insurance company, it can be a dark realization that your losses far surpass the amount that you settled for. You might be outraged that you were offered so little, and wonder if you can sue the insurance company, even though you settled with them, already, or if you are simply out of options.
Thankfully, there are legal avenues that you might be able to take, even though you have accepted a settlement agreement from an insurance company.
The Initial Offer After a Car Accident in Philadelphia
After being hurt in a car accident, the legal claims process in Philadelphia begins in the same way as anywhere else in the United States: In the first few weeks of your recovery, the insurance company of the person who was likely responsible for the crash will probably approach you and offer a settlement. This initial offer is rarely enough to cover the long term effects of the injuries that you have suffered: After all, insurance companies exist to make a profit, and a great way to do that is to minimize their expenses by grossly underpaying accident victims. The initial settlement offer is the best place and time for them to make this happen.
Unfortunately, if you were a victim in a serious car accident, the initial offer can be enticing. It often comes just at the point where you were wondering how you were going to pay for the costs of your recovery. Additionally, the initial offer is made to seem like it will cover your current medical expenses, plus a bit on top. Accepting the offer also seems like a way to end the legal process and just make the accident go away.
The timing and the amount of this initial offer are not mistakes. Insurance companies offer them in the hopes that you will accept them in exchange for signing a release – a contract where you agree not to pursue any further legal action related to the crash and your injuries that the crash caused. As your recovery wears on and it become clear that the settlement money will not come close to covering all of your medical expenses – let alone the wages you lost, your earning potential you no longer have, and the costs of your pain and suffering – the release is designed to prevent you from suing the insurance company for what you actually deserve.
Legal Options to Sue an Insurance Company After Signing a Release
Luckily, in Pennsylvania, the law recognizes the fact that insurance companies prey on innocent and unwary accident victims through their initial settlement offer. Even more importantly, the law in Pennsylvania actually does something to protect them from predatory business practices that insurance companies could use to exert their power over a difficult situation and make even more money.
These laws, largely embodied in the Unfair Insurance Practices section of Pennsylvania's code, could allow you to sue an insurance company in certain situations, even if you have accepted a settlement offer and signed a release that appears to give up your legal rights to bring them to court.
Scope of the Release Form
Importantly, one of the laws on the books in Pennsylvania, 40 P.S. § 146.4(e), forbids insurance companies from pushing innocent accident victims into signing a release form that gives up their right to sue for things that happen, other than the car accident that hurt them. This prevents people from being strong-armed into giving up their legal rights to recover for other instances, outside of the particular car wreck that caused their injuries.
Strings Attached to Settlement Payments
Another law, 40 P.S. § 146.4(f), prevents insurance companies from only making a partial payment on the settlement, coupled with a release form that prevents the person receiving the money from suing to collect the rest of the settlement. If such tactics were allowed, insurance companies could make a settlement offer, knowing that they would never have to pay the whole thing: They could simply put you in a position where you could either take part of the offer and forego the rest, or struggle to get anything.
No Hard Sells
40 P.S. § 146.7(f) prohibits insurance companies from threatening innocent accident victims that their legal rights could be lost if they do not sign a release form within a certain period of time. After all, as time passes, the true extent of your injuries becomes more and more apparent. Threats that would release an insurance company by accepting a settlement offer before a given date would force you to act on an incomplete understanding of your plight.
Dismissed With or Without Prejudice
In the release form, the technical language that is often used is that you agree to “dismiss” your case. However, there are two kinds of dismissal: With prejudice, and without prejudice.
If a case is dismissed with prejudice, then it cannot be brought back to life. A case dismissed with prejudice is dead, and over.
A case dismissed without prejudice, however, can be reopened once the flaws have been corrected in it. If the release form dismissed your case without prejudice, then, you can still have legal options at your disposal, even if you have accepted the settlement offer.
Generally, Settlements Are Final
Unfortunately, these ways of suing an insurance company after accepting a settlement offer and signing a release form are somewhat rare. Generally, the insurance company will pressure you to agree to the settlement, while still technically complying with the rules. If this is the case, your legal rights to sue the insurance company may have been completely waived and you will be left with no recourse.
This possibility highlights the importance of having a personal injury attorney look over a settlement offer and discuss its benefits and downfalls so you can make the decision that is right for you.
Contact the attorneys at the Philadelphia law office of Gilman & Bedigian online for the legal help you need.