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The Dangers Of Medical Authorizations And Release Of Liability Documents

"Should I Sign a Release or Authorization after My Accident?"

Shortly after an accident that involves injury, you will receive a series of documents from the liable party's insurance company. The paperwork will likely be titled as a “release” and/or an “authorization,” and it will ask for your signature. Before you even think about signing any document the insurance company sends to you, let's take a closer look at each of these documents, discuss their purpose, and how they can dramatically affect the value of your injury claim.

The types of authorizations and releases of which you need to be aware include:

1)   The Medical Authorization Release - Allows the insurance company to dig into your personal medical history.
2)   The Release of All Liability and Claims - Lets the insurance company "off the hook."
3)   The Property Damage Release (Check) - Depending on the amount of damage to your vehicle, you'll either receive a release (check) or have it repaired.

Below we’ll look at each type of release in more detail and discuss the consequences of signing one too quickly and/or without an accident attorney first evaluating your claim.  

Medical Authorization Release

The primary factor used to determine the value of your personal injury case will be your injuries and medical treatment. In most instances, when someone else is at fault for an accident that has caused you injury, it’s the responsibility of the negligent party's insurance company to compensate you for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. However, there are no guarantees when dealing with an insurance company, and when you sign their medical authorization release it gives them access to your medical history, past and present, and that can mean you're putting your claim at risk, perhaps leaving you with nothing. Why is that?

There are several reasons why signing a medical authorization can hurt your claim, including:

Prior Medical History

The insurance company’s medical authorization release will often allow them to access prior medical records, well before the date of your accident. 

Why do they want this information?

The insurance company will attempt to relate your existing injuries to information they uncover in your past medical history. 

For instance, if the accident left you with a torn rotator cuff, the adjuster may find that years prior to your accident you once visited your doctor and mentioned you had shoulder stiffness. They will then use this newfound information to try and decrease or deny your injury claim.

Doctor’s Notes

Why do they want this information?

The insurance company will scour the records to look for statements you made to the doctor that are inconsistent/contradict with the type or level of your injuries. 

For instance, you may have suffered headaches as a result of the accident that didn’t appear until a couple days after the incident, but the insurance company is claiming they are not related since you didn’t mention them on the date of the accident while at the ER.

It’s very common for aches and pains to appear in the days following your accident. Again, an experienced injury lawyer’s goal will be to relate these pains and dismiss the insurance company’s tactics.

Frequency of Past Doctor’s Visits

Why do they want this information?

If you have non-related health problems that require you to visit regularly with your doctor, or are in poor health, the insurance company may label you as a “eggshell client.” 

In short, this means they will say that even though your injuries were caused by the accident, you were fragile before the accident, thus your claim is not as valuable.

These are a few ways an insurance company will use a medical authorization to try and limit or deny your claim. And though they may sometimes find a legitimate excuse to do so, it’s ALWAYS advisable to ask an accident lawyer who limits their practice to personal injury to examine your case BEFORE signing a medical authorization.

Example of Medical Authorization Release

(*This example release is for informational purposes only and not intended for use. Your medical authorization release will vary depending on your particular circumstance. Yellow highlights indicate unnamed insurance company.)

example of medical authorization release

Release of All Claims and Liability

Eventually, every accident victim who wishes to settle their case will be required to sign this release. However, the difference between a fair settlement and one with minimal value may depend on whether or not you hired an experienced personal injury lawyer to handle your claim and evaluate the insurance company’s offer BEFORE signing a release of liability.

We have witnessed accident victims sign a release of liability without fully understanding the finality or consequences of putting their signature on the document. Make no mistake, signing this release is FOREVER. Once signed and received by the insurance company, your claim is closed, no matter what circumstances may arise in the future.

Generally, the release of liability will be the last document you’re required to sign before receiving your check. If you hire a lawyer to represent you, it’s sometimes possible that your attorney will prepare the final release for your signature. If you don’t have an attorney, you will be forced to sign the release prepared by the insurance company.

Information Contained in the Release of liability

  • All those who were involved in the accident. 

The number of entities on a release may vary, but you can expect to see the following parties named on a release of liability:

The injured party, i.e., you
The defendant(s), i.e., the person who struck you and/or the owner(s) of the vehicle
The defendant(s) insurance company, e.g., State Farm, Geico, Progressive, etc.

  • A statement that says you were involved in an accident on (Date of Accident) that caused injury.
  • The dollar amount of your personal injury settlement, minus property damage. (Property damage claims are handled separate from the bodily injury claim, see below.)
  • Depending on the agreement, the release may have language that says the insurance company is responsible for paying specific medical bills and/or other debts that are a result of the accident. (This language may or may not be in your release depending on circumstances.)
  • A statement that says you are releasing the defendant(s) and the insurance company from any future claims of liability and/or damages related to the date of the accident. 

Like the unique value of your injury claim, every release will be specific to a victim’s accident. The points above are meant to be a very general overview of what a release of liability may contain. Ultimately, we suggest that you ALWAYS contact an accident attorney BEFORE signing a release of liability. 

Property Damage Release (Check)

If you’re like the majority of our clients, one of your immediate concerns will be the replacement/repair of your car, truck, or motorcycle. Being without transportation is not only an inconvenience for everyday living, but now that you’ve been involved in an accident it’s imperative that you make all of your doctor’s appointments, and not having a vehicle can make this difficult to do.

Your Car Is Totaled

If it's found that the damage done to your vehicle exceeds its market value, the insurance company will make you an offer based on the present market value of your vehicle in its pre-accident condition. You will receive a check and/or a release from the insurance company, and once the check is cashed or the release is signed, your property damage claim is closed.  

Your Car is Not Totaled

If the insurance adjuster determines that the damage to your vehicle can be repaired, you will usually be able to request the body shop of your choice to have your vehicle repaired. Typically, there will be no release or check sent to you if the vehicle is not totaled. Instead, the insurance company will pay the body shop directly for all the necessary repairs listed in their estimate and you'll be required to sign off on those repairs.

Example of Property Damage Release

(*This example release is for informational purposes only and not intended for use. Your property damage release will vary depending on your particular circumstance.)

example of property damage release

Free Advice on releases and Authorizations

Never be afraid to contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss releases or authorizations related to your accident claim. The advice you may receive could increase the value of your claim; stop you from being pressured into signing; and possibly save your entire claim.

Keller & Keller's personal injury lawyers offer all of their callers and clients a Zero Fee Guarantee. This means that you'll NEVER pay for a consultation fee and the only way our firm receives money for its legal services if a recovery is made on your behalf. No matter how big or small your case, we're available to talk to you about the language in your release and/or authorization.

If you've been involved in a car accident, semi-truck accident or motorcycle wreck,  you must speak with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online or call us directly at 800.253.5537 for your free consultation.

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How Much Is My Car Accident Injury Claim Worth?

Before we look at the factors that determine the value of your car accident claim, know this: NO ONE can initially tell you what your car accident claim is worth; not until you tell your version of the story, liability is nailed down, your medical treatment is finished, and an experienced personal injury law firm has reviewed your case.

And it's ok not to have an immediate dollar amount thrown at you. After all, if your accident had a "price tag," then there would be no opportunity for you to present your particular case, meaning you'd potentially risk shorting yourself thousands of dollars, or the entire claim!

(Having settled thousands of personal injury cases, we are certain of one fact: No two clients are alike, no two car accidents are alike, no matter how similar they seem.)

Our firm's #1 goal is likely similar to your own at the moment: recover the maximum amount of compensation for the accident. The way to ensure you receive a fair settlement is to present a professional and persuasive case that is supported by medical documentation and measurable course(s) of treatment, e.g., physical therapy.

WHAT FACTORS CAN INCREASE MY CASE VALUE?

You're likely worried about hospital bills, property damage, lost wages, and a possible change in lifestyle, so a quick settlement may seem attractive. However, as time passes, most clients are thankful they took the time to consult with someone who could advise them of future factors that could potentially increase their case value.

Scenarios that can increase the value of a car accident case might include:

  • The client's injuries worsened over time, leading to unforeseen treatments and costly procedures.
  • The client didn't predict the type and/or duration of treatment their injuries required.
  • The client didn't anticipate the strain the accident would place on their personal life.
  • The client didn't account for the long-term psychological effects.

These points are common after-effects accident victims are unable to predict immediately following their accident, and the insurance company is going to try and settle with you before any of these scenarios occur.

Ultimately, your damages are likely to have additional value if presented to an insurance company by way of experienced legal representation. Having an attorney allows you to take the time you need to ultimately see the full picture of your claim, and remember, once you sign a release of all claims, you're essentially telling the insurance company they're "off the hook."

ARE SIMILAR ACCIDENT TYPES WORTH THE SAME AMOUNT OF MONEY?

Each person is unique, each accident is unique, every case has unique value, and there are no exceptions to this rule. Let's look at an example:

  • Driver A is a young pregnant female with no pre-existing medical conditions. She has been involved in a rear-end car accident collision. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital for examination of back and neck pain. The doctors diagnose her with whiplash and prescribe her a course of treatment that is consistent with the needs of her pregnancy. She completes treatment and is released soon after.
  • Driver B is a middle-aged male with prior back surgery. He has also been involved in a rear-end style car accident collision and is experiencing neck and back pain. He was not able to visit a doctor until two weeks after the crash due to fear of missing work and losing his job. When he is able to visit the doctor, he is diagnosed with whiplash and is prescribed a course of physical therapy. He is released soon after.

Let's also assume that Driver A and Driver B were rear-ended at the same spot on the same highway on the same day. Additionally, the vehicles that struck A & B were traveling at the same speed at the time of impact. Weather conditions were the same for both accidents, and both A & B and the adverse drivers have the same insurance companies, etc.

What does all this mean?

Despite everything we know about driver's A & B accident details, their claims will have different values!

Even with all the listed similarities, it's very unlikely that driver A & B will undergo the similar medical treatment for their injuries; respond to treatment in the same manner; or experience the same types of aggravation and frustration in the days and months after their accident.

IS IT TRUE THAT I'LL GET THREE TIMES THE MEDICAL BILLS FOR MY ACCIDENT CLAIM?

This "formula" is an estimate that has often been thought of by many as a way to value car accident claims. And though it is true that you may receive three times your medical bills, it's also just as likely that you'll receive more or less.

In short, never assume the value of your car accident claim is simply "3 x's your medical bills."

WHAT THINGS CAN I RECOVER FOR IN MY CAR ACCIDENT CLAIM?

There are typically 3 components we look to recover for in a personal injury case that arises from a car accident:

  1. Past and future medical bills
  2. Past and future lost wages, or loss of earning capacity
  3. Past and future pain, suffering, disfigurement, and disability

Again, the numbered factors above don't apply to every case, and you should always have an experienced injury lawyer evaluate your specific claim.

IS THERE EVER AN INSTANCE IN WHICH I CAN IMMEDIATELY KNOW MY CASE VALUE?

Accidents that leave a person with traumatic injuries; broken bones; the need for surgery; permanent hardware; and/or cause death, may constitute what is known as a "policy limits demand."

In these instances, our personal injury attorneys will immediately notify the adverse insurance company of our representation of a client and ask that they send us what is known as a "certified declarations (DEC) sheet." This document will reveal the total amount of available dollars under the liable party's policy.

Once we receive the DEC sheet we will be able to tell you how much money is available, and whether or not your injuries justify asking for the entire amount. However, it will still be very difficult to predict the value of your car accident claim, because other factors will almost certainly play a role.

For instance, we may be able to reduce certain medical bills on your behalf so that you're not required to pay back the full amount, thus increasing your settlement. We may also be able to secure Underinsured Motorists Coverage (UIM) from your policy in the event that the adverse policy limits are inadequate.

ASK AN ATTORNEY TO REVIEW THE INSURANCE POLICY.

Asking an experienced personal injury attorney to examine an insurance policy ensures you aren't leaving money on the table. Policies can be confusing, full of difficult-to-understand contract language, some of which is applicable to your case, and some that isn't.

If your everyday job doesn't require you to review insurance policies, then your chance of fully understanding available coverage will be challenging. Fortunately, we have more than 75 years of locating and examining insurance polices for car accident victims, so we can help guide you and youir family in the right direction at no cost.

Ultimately, speaking with an experienced injury law firm about your case is an excellent step toward determining what your car accident case is worth.