In a perfect world, insurance companies would do what’s best for victims after an accident, working hard to ensure that they receive the compensation they need to recover. In the real world, however, this is unfortunately not always the case. Like other businesses, insurance companies prioritize profit, and that often means giving accident victims lowball offers even when they aren’t enough to cover their bills.
One way that insurers get away with this behavior is by pressing victims to sign a medical or property damage release after an accident and using the information they uncover to justify a lowball offer. What many victims don’t know is that once they sign a release form, it will be difficult if not impossible to negotiate an offer that will cover their medical treatment.
Cleveland attorneys Kisling, Nestico & Redick are all too familiar with the variety of tactics that insurance companies use to lowball accident victims. In fact, most of the firm’s lawyers and support staff worked in the insurance industry before KNR was founded 15 years ago. Today, they use their insight into how insurance companies work to help accident victims legally and effectively fight back. KNR gave us knowledgeable answers about what victims must know before signing a medical or property damage release.
Don’t Sign Without Talking to an Attorney
As a general rule, Kisling, Nestico & Redick say that it’s a good idea to avoid signing any document from an insurer without speaking to a lawyer first. Serious car accidents tend to leave victims with severe injuries that require significant compensation to pay for their full recovery. Brain and spinal cord injuries, broken bones, disfigurement, and brain injuries are all common after major car crashes, and injuries like these often require victims to undergo long-term treatment. Kisling, Nestico & Redick say that serious accidents are also the most challenging when it comes to fair compensation and that insurers often pressure victims to settle for an offer that isn’t in their best interest.
One way they commonly do this, according to Kisling, Nestico & Redick, is by using sneaky tactics to get victims to sign a medical or property damage release. In one common scenario, the insurer presents the release to the victim as a routine form that everyone signs. In another scenario, the insurer pressures an accident victim to sign by implying that they are required to do so. In reality, no one is required to sign a release form, says KNR. Far too many people sign these forms, inadvertently giving insurers information that they can use to justify a lowball offer.
Kisling, Nestico & Redick say that it is crucial for victims to understand how signing these types of documents will impact their futures. The most qualified person to help them understand this is an attorney, preferably one with special experience in the insurance industry. An attorney will be able to explain clearly what signing the release form will mean for a specific victim and ensure that they are doing what is best for their particular situation.
Common Issues With Medical Releases
When an accident victim signs a medical release for an insurance company, the insurer immediately gains access to the victim’s entire medical history. This includes not only records regarding accident-related injuries but also all other past medical records. All too often, says Kisling, Nestico & Redick, victims sign a release thinking that their insurer will only review the records that apply to the accident, when this is almost never the case. What’s worse, there is no way to limit which records an insurer can access. This allows an insurer to review a victim’s entire medical history and use the information to reduce a victim’s offer.
Once a release is signed, it can quickly become problematic for the victim. For starters, an insurer will often try to reduce an offer due to past medical issues and conditions. For example, if you had low back pain at any point prior to your accident and saw a doctor or chiropractor for it, even if you sustained an injury to your low back in the accident, the insurer could claim that the injury was preexisting to avoid compensating you. Since you experienced symptoms in the past, the insurer could even go so far as to say that the new injury was unrelated to the accident and pay you nothing.
In some cases, it may be fine to sign a medical release, but it is best to discuss it with an attorney first. Kisling, Nestico & Redick has been working with accident victims for over 15 years, and the firm’s lawyers have seen enough cases to know when signing a release is and is not a good idea. They can also help you navigate the situation so that you provide only specific information that the insurer needs to determine your compensation amount.
Issues With Property Damage Releases
After a car accident, property damage releases are common, especially if your vehicle was totaled in the crash. But there are still many ways that insurers try to get you to sign or accept less compensation than you need or are entitled to. Often, if a victim’s car is totaled, they will simply receive a check from the insurer. It may or may not come with a property damage release. Many people cash the check without thinking, and this is where it gets tricky.
Kisling, Nestico & Redick warn victims not to cash the check or sign the release right away. Regardless of which of these actions you take, it constitutes an agreement on your part that the insurer has met their liability toward you. That means that you cannot ask them for additional payment for damage to your vehicle or property, even if it turns out that you were undercompensated.
The best thing to do before signing a property damage release or cashing a check after an accident is to make sure that the amount you received is fair. One way to do this is to visit your own mechanic, not the one your insurer recommends. They may imply that you have to use their repair shop, but this is not actually true. Any time an offer or check amount does not seem fair, you should plan to negotiate with the insurance company or hire a lawyer to negotiate for you.
Avoiding Lowball Offers
Whether you signed a release or not, a lowball offer is never acceptable, according to Kisling, Nestico & Redick. If you signed a release and the offer you receive is low, it may be time to get in touch with a lawyer, since it’s likely that the insurance company has evidence to support its offer. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that first offers are usually low, so everyone should be prepared to negotiate. In KNR’s experience, far too many people are unaware of this and accept the offer.
There are many red flags that could indicate that an offer you received may be too low. At the top of this list is noticing that damages you are owed are missing from your settlement. Kisling, Nestico & Redick emphasizes that there should always be an explanation of what you are being compensated for, including reasons for missing damages or low offers. If there is no explanation, make sure to ask for one in writing, and be ready to negotiate.
In addition, if at any point an insurer uses the common tactic of disputing your injuries or their severity, be ready to fight back. KNR says that its lawyers often have to remind victims that even if their injuries were not life-threatening, they could still have a huge impact on their futures, and they deserve to be compensated for them. This is especially true in the case of chronic injuries that may not be immediately fully debilitating but will affect the victim for years or possibly a lifetime after an accident.
In even worse lowball scenarios, insurance companies will try to intimidate and pressure you to accept an offer, just as they may have pressured you to sign the release. It can be difficult to stand up for yourself if you are not prepared to, and many people who feel pressured take the offer, only to find that they are left without the resources they need to recover fully from their accident.
KNR warns clients never to accept an offer if the insurer pushes you to take it immediately. This is almost always a sign that it is a lowball offer. If you accept it but later need further treatment, you could be out of luck. At this point, it’s best to contact an attorney, especially if you are seriously injured.
When to Get Legal Help
By working with an attorney prior to signing any release form, you’ll ensure that you fully understand the consequences of signing and drastically improve your odds of receiving fair compensation. It’s important to keep in mind that just because you hire an attorney doesn’t mean that you will necessarily have to go to court; a lawyer can do a lot more for your case than help you navigate release forms. Kisling, Nestico & Redick works exclusively with Ohio accident victims, helping them investigate the accident, gather evidence, negotiate with insurers, and more, so that victims can focus on recovering from their injuries.
If you are being pressured to sign a property damage or medical release or if you signed a release after incorrectly believing that you had to, a personal injury attorney may be able to help. Kisling, Nestico & Redick has been helping Ohioans receive fair compensation for accidents for over 15 years, and the firm may be able to assist you as well. For a free consultation, call 1-800-HURT-NOW.