If you got injured in an auto accident, you may be thinking about whether to accept a quick settlement offer from the responsible party’s insurance company. This is understandable.
After getting hurt in an accident, finances can get pretty tight when you are out of work for a while and have medical bills to pay, and the last thing you want to deal with is a long and drawn out injury claim. So, when an insurance company approaches you with an offer to settle, it can be very tempting to accept that offer.
The problem with accepting an early offer from an insurance company is that it can be and usually is far less than what your claim is actually worth. You might not realize this at the time, but later when all of your physical symptoms have totally manifested themselves and your medical tests are completed, your doctor informs you that your injuries are considerably worse than you originally thought.
When this type of situation arises, many people wonder if it is possible to reopen their car accident claim after it has already been settled. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is generally “no”. There are some limited circumstances when a personal injury case could be reopened (more on these later), but most of the time, you cannot pursue additional compensation after you have accepted a settlement offer.
It is because of situations like these that we always recommend at least talking with an experienced personal injury lawyer before accepting any type of settlement offer from an insurance company. By consulting with an attorney, you can have your case thoroughly analyzed by an experienced professional and be advised of your legal rights and options. This way, you can make the most informed decision regarding whether or not you should take the offer.
Under what circumstances can I reopen a car accident claim after it has been settled?
If you take a settlement offer from an insurance company, you will normally be required to sign a “release of liability”, which waives your right to come after the defendant for additional damages. There are some instances, however, when it might be possible to pursue additional compensation even after you have agreed to settle a claim:
- No signed agreement: You may be at the point where you have agreed to accept a car accident settlement offer, but you have not signed the paperwork yet. If this is the case, you might still be able to get out of it. That said, be aware that a verbal agreement to settle can sometimes be interpreted as legally valid, so speak with an attorney to find out what situation applies to your case.
- Settlement document contained technical errors: Maybe the document that you signed has materially significant technical errors. For example, you agree to a settlement of $53,000, but they displace a couple of the numbers and write up the agreement as $35,000. If this happened, you could have them correct the mistake, or it may be possible to back out of the agreement.
- Defendant failed to perform: The defendant agrees to pay you the settlement within 10 days, but 20 days later you have not seen your check. They are now very hard to get a hold of, and when you do reach them, their answers are vague and evasive. In a situation like this, it might be possible to reopen the case because the defendant failed to perform.
- There are other potential at-fault parties: Some car accidents involve multiple vehicles and the possibility of several parties that could be at fault. Accidents involving a commercial vehicle could also put multiple parties on the hook, such as the defendant’s employer, a cargo/shipping company, or the party responsible for maintaining the vehicle. Even in a standard two-car accident, a vehicle defect could be a contributing factor. If there are parties other than the one that you settled with that could share some responsibility for your accident, then you may be able to file a claim against them for additional damages.
- Your underinsured motorist coverage: You may be able to make a claim against your own insurance company if the amount of insurance available from the defendant is not enough to cover all of your losses. However, if you accept a settlement from a defendant without getting consent from your own insurance carrier, or for less than the defendant’s policy limits, you may waive your right to seek underinsured coverage. This can be tricky, so it is best to contact a lawyer to help you protect your rights to seek Underinsured Motorist Coverage.
Contact our experienced West Virginia car accident lawyers
It is not usually possible to open a car accident claim after you have already settled, but there are some limited instances when it can be done. If you are wondering whether this could apply to your case, the best place to start is to speak with a skilled and knowledgeable auto accident attorney.