The short answer to the question is “Yes, you do have to sign a release of claims when you settle your case.” But you should be very careful in signing such a release because once it is signed, it is game over and there will be no more money coming!
This question comes up eventually in every personal injury settlement. Any time you enter into a settlement agreement with an opposing party (more likely their insurance company), you will be required to sign a full release of claims before the insurance company will issue a check on the settlement.
A Release of Claims Ends Your Rights
A full release of claims is just what it sounds like. It means that the case is over and you cannot come back later and make additional or even different claims arising out of the same incident. In other words, you are getting all the money you will ever get on the case no matter what happens in the future.
The Full Extent of Injuries are Not Always Immediately Apparent
Why is this important to understand? It means that even when your injuries get worse over time or lead to new conditions or injuries, you cannot go back for more money. This can come up in many ways. For instance, a knee injury may get worse over time despite a successful surgery.
Beware the Secondary Conditions
Similarly, a knee injury can lead to secondary injuries later on that are caused by the original knee injury. Secondary conditions are actually quite common. Sticking with the knee example, a knee injury can lead to injuries to the other knee, ankles, hips and back. A knee injury can even lead to psychological issues such as depression resulting from the inability to do the things you love.
Similar worsening of injuries and secondary injuries can be associated with almost any serious physical injury. The same holds true of emotional and psychological injuries. Likewise, there may be a combination of a few or many physical, emotional and psychological injuries that worsen or cause all manners of secondary issues over time.
Medical Expense Mount Up!
Why I am telling you all this? Because with each such condition, there can be medical expenses. No matter how big these medical expenses get and no matter whether you expected them or not, you cannot reopen your claim except in very rare situations such as fraud on the part of the insurance company. This means you will bear the full financial burden of these expenses.
So again, you should not sign a release until you have obtained a full recovery. This too comes with qualifications. A full recovery in many cases may not be “full recovery” as you would define it. Instead, it may simply mean getting all the money that is available through insurance coverage.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists in New Mexico
Sadly, in many cases, this will not come close to fully compensating you for your injuries if you are seriously injured. The best example is the case of uninsured or underinsured motorist. New Mexico has one, if not the highest, rate of uninsured motorists. Many more are underinsured.
This means that unless you have your own and sufficient underinsured motorist coverage, you likely will not be fully compensated. The underinsured or uninsured problems arise in all manner of personal injury cases. And it is not always possible as in the case of car accidents to protect yourself against negligent and uninsured parties.
Your Insurance Provider Must be Notified in Advance of Release of Claims or You Will Waive Your Underinsured Coverage
So what does this discussion have to do with a release of claims? Everything! If there is no more money to recover, then there is no real risk of signing the release since you have gotten everything that is available. On the other hand, where there is greater insurance coverage or other available assets, you would be wise to understand your injuries, possible future complication and possible future medical expenses.
In these cases, you must then fully assess the value of your case, the agreed upon settlement amount, and the risks and costs of going to trial. A fair assessment may dictate settlement and release of claims but it is not something that should be rushed into blindly.
Seek the Guidance of an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
In cases involving serious personal injuries, it unwise to deal with an insurance adjuster alone. The insurance adjuster is not your friend or your ally. They serve only the insurance company whose mission is to minimize payouts. Simply put, you cannot count on honesty and fairness without a fight. You will likely need an experienced personal injury attorney on your side.