The days immediately after being seriously injured in a car accident can be chaotic and confusing. You may feel bombarded with questions from the police, your doctor, and the insurance companies. If it is determined that you were not at fault for the accident, you will probably hear from an adjuster for the at-fault party’s insurance company pretty quickly after the accident. This person will try to convince you that it is in your best interest to accept their offer for compensation as soon as possible—and to sign several documents right away. As New Mexico car accident attorneys, we advise anyone who has been asked to sign releases for an insurance company to consult a lawyer first. You could be signing away your chance to be fully compensated for your losses.
What You Will Be Asked to Sign
At first glance, the papers you will be asked to sign might seem reasonable. The adjuster will tell you that they can’t settle your claim until you sign and that the sooner you sign, the sooner you will get the money you desperately need to pay your medical bills. The documents you will be asked to sign include:
- Medical authorization release. This form allows the insurance company to request all of your medical records. We will discuss this in more detail below.
- Release of all liability and claims. Once you sign this document, you will not be able to hold the insurance company liable for additional damages. You will have to sign this form eventually but should not do so until you and your attorney agree to the compensation being offered.
- Property damage release. If your car is totaled in the crash, you will get a check for the amount determined to be the value of your vehicle. Once you cash the check, the insurance company is off the hook. If your car can be repaired, the insurance company will most likely pay the repair shop directly. At that point, your property damage claim is closed.
It might be tempting to sign these forms and get your money sooner rather than later. However, the reality is that the insurance company is fishing for a way to deny your claim outright. If they get ahold of your medical records, they will likely find a reason to devalue or deny your claim.
Why You Should Never Sign a Medical Release Form
Even if the insurance company for the other driver accepts that their driver was at fault and that you are owed compensation, they will do everything they can to reduce the amount of that compensation. Part of a personal injury claim is confirming that you are injured, showing the extent of those injuries, and proving that the crash was the cause of your injuries. When you sign a general medical release form, you are giving the insurance adjuster access to all kinds of information that they will use to try to counter your evidence, including:
- Doctors’ notes. Hoping to find inconsistencies in your statements, the insurance company will scour these records to find out what you reported to every medical professional you saw in connection with your accident. For example, if you reported symptoms to your doctor days after the crash that you did not report in the emergency room, the adjuster will twist that to accuse you of dishonesty.
- Prior medical history. A blanket release document will give the insurance adjuster access to all of your medical history. The adjuster will search through your medical history to find evidence that you had an injury in the past that is similar to the one you are claiming was caused by the accident. If you complained of headaches ten years ago and are reporting a concussion now, the adjuster could claim you had a pre-existing condition.
- Past doctor visits. If your medical history reveals that you see your doctor frequently—or that you have had physical therapy, chiropractic care, or are taking pain medication—the adjuster could try to claim that you were only injured in the crash because you were already prone to injuries.
The bottom line is that there is no reason to be rushed into signing these forms.
Ask Our New Mexico Car Accident Attorneys First!
Before even speaking to an insurance adjuster, you should call the Albuquerque office of Keller & Keller. In a free initial consultation, our car accident attorneys will explain what you need to do to build the strongest possible claim for compensation, which includes NOT signing any documents. Contact us as soon as possible after your crash, and we will get started on your claim right away!