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What does it mean when I sign a release?

September 8, 2016 Our Blog

This article is from Steve Goldman, a Chicago criminal defense attorney who also practices personal injury. Personal injury cases are settled every day in Chicago. An insurance company’s adjuster or defense attorney and the injured party’s attorney will go back and forth on an amount of settlement, and finally your attorney recommends that you accept an offer at a certain amount. You accept accordingly, but the case isn’t over until such time as you sign a release of claims.

Confirmation of settlement
After a client accepts a settlement offer, the better practice is for his or her attorney to follow up a phone call accepting the offer with a confirmatory letter to the insurer or insurance defense attorney. The letter will advise that the client has accepted the offer of settlement at a specific amount. In that letter, the attorney will ask that the insurer’s release of claims be forwarded to his or her attention.

Who is being released?
The language in a release of claims for personal injury cases varies from insurer to insurer, but the sum and substance of a release is that you’re forever discharging the person who caused your injuries from any and all liability in connection with the accident. The release also operates to discharge his or her heirs, successors, legal representatives and insurers.

No additional sums are payable
Nearly all settlements in personal injury cases are in the form lump sum settlements. You’re releasing the person responsible for your injuries from all known and unknown injuries suffered in the accident. If in the future, you learn that you suffered other injuries in connection with the same occurrence, you can’t come back and seek additional compensation.

No admission of liability
You might think that by virtue of settling your case, the person who caused your accident and their insurer have finally admitted liability. That’s not the case. The insurer will continue to deny liability on behalf of its insured person and recite that the settlement is a mere compromise of a doubtful and disputed claim. Don’t worry about this denial of liability. It would be unusual to see a release without this language. You sought compensation for damages, and by entering into the settlement, that’s exactly what you’re getting.

Your sole claim
Expect to see language to the effect that this is your sole claim against the person who was responsible for your injuries and his or her insurer. By signing the release, you forever waive and relinquish any and all rights that you might have to bring another claim against the responsible party that might arise out of the same occurrence.

No other agreements
By signing the release, you agree that you haven’t made any other agreements with the person who caused the accident or their insurer. Any and all agreements are within the four corners of the release document. Again, they don’t want to return and seek further compensation in the future.

Full and final settlement
Once that release is signed and the original is delivered to the insurance company, a full and final settlement has occurred. When our law firm is involved, it’s not unusual for the insurer to forward a settlement check along with the release. We’ll have a settlement statement prepared for your review and signature, and then we’ll obtain your signature on the release and check. The check is deposited into our client trust account, and we ordinarily disburse a week later. When a check doesn’t accompany the release, we usually receive the settlement check within two weeks of delivering the executed release.

Never try to represent yourself in a personal injury case. Insurance adjusters want to close out claims as quickly and cheaply as possible. Depending on the insurance company, an adjuster might even receive a bonus for procuring a fast and cheap settlement. After being out of work while recovering from accident injuries, both medical and personal bills continue to come in, and the financial pressure increases. Insurance companies are well aware of that fact. Our experienced personal injury attorneys have a strong sense of the value of a case, and that provides us with the ability to maximize the value of your claim.

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