The vast majority of car accident claims and lawsuits result in a settlement. That is, the cases never make it to the trial phase because the attorneys on both sides work out a deal that is fair on both ends and saves the expense and time of presenting the case to a jury. The settlement is approved by a judge, and that’s usually the end of it.
However, it’s important in this process to have a competent lawyer who is mindful of future claims that may arise. The language in a settlement agreement could preclude plaintiff from making further claims – even against others who aren’t specifically named in the settlement agreement.
This is what happened a recent South Dakota Supreme Court case, Gores v. Miller.
This case involved a teen victim who was in the passenger seat with a teen driver when the drive lost control of the van and crashed. As a result of this single-vehicle auto accident, the teenage victim suffered severe lacerations to her arm.
The 15-year-old girl was rushed to a nearby hospital emergency room, where she had to undergo a skin graft. She several weeks later need another, and it was months before she was considered fully healed.
The girl’s mother was appointed to act as conservator for the girl and filed a lawsuit on her behalf against the teen driver and his mother, who owned the vehicle and under whose insurance the driver had been operating.
The auto insurance policy maximum was $25,000. Plaintiff signed off on a settlement agreement for the full amount of that policy, agreeing to release the mother and son of all future liability. But a provision in the agreement also stated plaintiff agreed to release from liability, “all other persons, firms or corporations liable or who might be claimed liable… from any and all claims… which have resulted or may in the future develop from (the accident).”
Plaintiff was able to further collect on her $100,000 underinsured motorist policy, under which her daughter was covered. Minus the $25,000 paid by defendants’ insurer, that allowed her to collect an additional $75,000.
Subsequently, plaintiff, again on behalf of her daughter, filed a lawsuit against the doctor who treated her in the emergency room and who performed the skin grafts. She alleged the doctor failed to adhere to accepted medical standards in performing the skin grafts. She also alleged the doctor failed to inform her daughter of how to properly dress the wounds. This failure, she asserted, resulted in requiring more treatment and the wounds taking longer to heal.
The physician filed a motion to dismiss, citing the earlier-signed agreement that released any and all parties liable for claims resulting from the crash. The trial court granted that motion and, on appeal, the state supreme court affirmed.
In its review, the high court noted while the release didn’t specifically name the doctor or the hospital and said nothing of malpractice, the broad language encompassed these claims. What’s more, the language was not ambiguous, and therefore, it was clear to plaintiff what she was signing.
As a result, plaintiff forfeited any future claims stemming from the crash.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Gores v. Miller, Feb. 3, 2016, South Dakota Supreme Court
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