Posted in Personal Injury on December 19, 2019
Most injured accident victims have the goal of avoiding injury trials. Trials can be lengthy and expensive processes with no guarantees of winning a monetary award. Most people instead settle their claims with insurance companies before filing lawsuits and taking their cases to court. Settlement values are often smaller than awards during injury trials, but the trade-off is that you do not have to go through the uncertain court process. With a few exceptions, you cannot file a lawsuit after accepting a settlement offer. You must choose one or the other in California.
It is normal practice for an insurance company to make you sign a legal document releasing the defendant from liability for the injuries or incident in question before sending you a settlement check. Upon signing this form, you both accept the settlement amount offered and agree that you will not try to hold the company responsible for the same injuries or accident again in the future. The insurance company will then send the check and end your claim.
In most cases, you cannot file a lawsuit after saying yes to a settlement and signing the release form. The form will create a legally binding agreement that you accept the offered settlement as full payment for your damages and you will take no further legal action against the defendant. You will forfeit your right to bring a lawsuit against the defendant from that point, even if your injuries worsen or you change your mind. Certain exceptions to the rule exist, however.
If you regret accepting a settlement or wish to revisit your case for some reason, ask a lawyer to review the language of your release form. It is possible – although not common – that the settlement agreement does not include a provision requiring mutual release. If this is the case, you could still have the right to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party even after taking the settlement check. You may also be able to challenge the settlement agreement based on its terms if they are vague, broad or unfair.
Another exception exists if your case involves multiple defendants or at-fault parties. If multiple people contributed to your injuries, a settlement agreement and release form will only apply to the individual defendant against which you filed the initial claim. If you discover other at-fault parties later, you can still file a lawsuit against them even if you accepted a settlement from the first defendant as long as the statute of limitations has not run out.
Finally, you could potentially file a lawsuit after taking a settlement if your lawyer detects signs of fraud, coercion, deceit, duress, blackmail, violence, withholding of material facts or other bad-faith practices that could invalidate a settlement agreement. These issues with your original settlement could void the agreement and give you the ability to file a lawsuit against the defendant instead.
Although exceptions to the rule exist, it is rare to be able to file a lawsuit after accepting a settlement agreement in California. The best way to protect yourself financially is to make sure accepting an insurance settlement is the right move for you based on advice from an attorney. A personal injury lawyer will be someone you can trust to guide you according to your best interests.
Hire a lawyer as soon as possible after suffering a serious personal injury. A lawyer can provide counsel you can trust as to the true value of your injuries, foreseeable medical expenses, future lost wages and how to detect insurance bad faith. A lawyer may be able to negotiate for a better settlement amount on your behalf or help you bring a lawsuit, whether or not you have already accepted a settlement offer.