Following a car accident in Florida, it is not uncommon for auto insurers to contact either insureds or third parties, seeking to reach a settlement on the claim (sometimes even before it’s been formally filed). Our injury attorneys urge great caution in these interactions.
Insurers essentially have two goals with these contacts:
- To glean information about the collision;
- To extend a low-ball settlement offer before you have a chance to fully comprehend the scope of your damages.
This is not to say auto insurers never offer a fair deal on the first go, but it’s best to have your auto accident attorney review the offer to determine if you are entitled to more – and if so, to help you negotiate for it.
A recent case weighed by the South Dakota Supreme Court illustrates this point. It should be noted that while the facts of this case are unique (ultimately giving the plaintiff a shot at seeking more damages than her early meager settlement), the tactics used by insurers are not.
According to court records, plaintiff was a 55-year-old front seat passenger in a vehicle driven by her boyfriend in summer 2013 when her boyfriend made a left turn at an intersection from the through traffic lane. Meanwhile, traveling in the same direction was looking down at his speedometer as he prepared to travel straight through the intersection, just behind plaintiff’s vehicle. When he looked up from the dashboard, he realized the driver ahead was stopped in the middle of the intersection, waiting to turn. He slammed on his brakes, but it was too late. He rear-ended the vehicle. The driver in front was cited for improper lane usage, while the driver in rear was cited for following too closely.
(There is generally a rebuttable presumption of fault by the rear driver in rear-end collision cases, which can be challenged with presentation of evidence the collision was the result of sudden and truly unexpected or unlawful action by the driver up ahead.)
Plaintiff was transported to a nearby hospital and treated for pain in her neck, back and ribs. She was released with pain medication. At the time, she did not experience chest pain.
Two days later, a claims adjuster for rear driver’s auto insurer reached out and offered her $3,000 in exchange for her agreement not to pursue further claims against the at-fault driver. She had no prior claims knowledge, and also was receiving federal disability benefits for an intellectual disability. She agreed to the terms. It should be noted that at that juncture, he medical bills had already surpassed $5,000 – $2,000 less than what the insurer was offering.
A few days later, however, pain in her chest went from slight and nagging to severe. She was transported via ambulance to a hospital, where she was ultimately diagnosed with a sternum fracture and internal bleeding, caused by the crash. She also developed a staph infection and abscess. Her medical bills topped $400,000 after her month-long stay in the hospital.
She later filed a personal injury lawsuit against the hospital, alleging medical malpractice. Following discovery in that case, she amended her complaint to include the rear driver in the auto accident. That defendant filed a third-party complaint against her boyfriend, alleging negligence. He further argued the claim against him should be dismissed, citing the release plaintiff had signed.
Trial court granted the driver defendant’s motion for summary judgment, based on the release. The state supreme court, however, reversed. After review, the court concluded there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff’s consent was gleaned through undue influence. Further, a question of fact remained as to whether the release even precluded plaintiff’s claim. These matters will be decided by a jury (rather than a judge), assuming the case goes to trial and doesn’t settle before that time.
The moral of the story is to always consult with your car accident attorney in West Palm Beach before agreeing to any insurance settlements – even if you don’t think you are hurt that badly. At least give yourself some time to consider and verify your outstanding medical bills and projected loss of wages/ time off work before hastily agreeing to sign off on your rights.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Schaefer v. Sioux Spine & Sport, Jan. 10, 2017, South Dakota Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Fatal Teen Car Crashes in South Florida, Jan. 2, 20-17, West Palm Beach Injury Attorney Blog