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Personal Injury: Settlements are Forever – A Full Final Release is Eternal

by David Boyle on flickr
by David Boyle on flickr

When a case is settled, the document bringing the case to a close is usually referred to as a “full and final release”.  As the words imply, there is no going back.  Questions sometimes arise later, when the injured person finds new or persisting symptoms for whatever reason unknown at the time of the settlement.  Sometimes in hindsight the settlement just seems low.

Settlements must be carefully thought out.  Settlements are final.  Standard releases include language such as:

“I hereby release and forever discharge [name the defendant] from any and all claims, demands, rights, actions or causes of action on account of or in any way growing out of the accident.”

Finality of the release is further cemented with a provision foreseeing potentially unknown effects of an injury, terminating further recovery.  Here’s typical language:

“This shall release any and all personal injuries and consequences thereof, including death, and specifically including, also, any injuries which may or may not exist, but which at this time are unknown and unanticipated and which may develop at some time in the future, and all unforeseen developments arising from known injuries resulting from or to result from an accident that occurred on [insert date of accident].”

In case of any doubt whatsoever, a release ices the cake by characterizing the settlement as a “full accord and satisfaction”.  Accord and satisfaction is a valid legal defense that can be raised later, indicating that the claim has been extinguished and put to rest for eternity.

One question I get about releases is the wording that the release is not an admission of liability and also that the claim was disputed.  This is fairly standard.  It would be a rare insurance company that would allow a settlement without this common language.

A rare exception to the finality of a full final release occurs where there may have been forgery or fraud.  Every day garden variety “I had a lot of bills and needed the money, I was under stress” does not meet the extremely high burden of proving fraud.

Never even think about settling a personal injury case without retaining an experienced personal injury attorney.  Insurance claims adjusters are in a hurry to close out a file and can get a bonus for settling cases below a reserve set by the company.  Add that to the pressure to pay bills and there is a dangerous combination of grabbing money without comprehending the full true value of the matter.  An experienced personal injury attorney has a sense of what a case is worth and has been through the process enough to have perspective that will enable true optimization of the claim.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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