March 12, 2011, ERIE, PA -- Regular readers know that we try to publicize helpful information about Pennsylvania injury cases and the insurance companies who work to prevent injured people from getting full compensation. This latest insurance company trick is something I knew I had to get out in the public eye as soon as possible.
The other day, a client walked in with a story of a new variation on an old insurance trick. I wasn't sure I believed it until I saw the paperwork myself to make sure it was true.
The Client's Story
Here's what my client told me. He said that he was hurt in a car accident that wasn't his fault. His injuries were bad enough that he was out of work for several weeks after the accident. He got a call from the other driver's insurance company. The insurance adjustor on the phone told him that he knew my client had been pretty badly injured. The insurance adjustor asked him how much money he'd lost from missing work. My client told him (it was about $2,000 at that point). The adjustor told my client, "I'll send you a check for that right now. I know how hard it is when you've been hurt and can't work and I don't want it be any more difficult for you than it has to be."
Sure enough, my client got a check in the mail within a couple of days. The check came with some paperwork with dense type (legal fine print). He didn't pay too much attention to it and he certainly didn't sign anything (he knew from all those lawyer ads that you're not supposed to sign anything). But he did cash the check. "Why not?" He thought.
When he continued to miss work during his recovery, my client called that nice insurance adjustor. My client told the nice insurance adjustor that he'd missed more work and wondered if he could get another check. "Another check?" The insurance adjustor asked. "I'm sorry, sir, but you released your rights to seek any other compensation when you accepted our first check. We're not going to pay you any more and you can't sue us or the driver who hurt you because you cashed our check." In other words, you screwed up, pal. You trusted me.
The Old Trick (Or, Pay 'Em a Little Now, Save a Lot Later)
It's long been known that some insurance adjustors will go to see injured people soon after an accident, before the injured people know the full extent of their injuries and losses and before the injured people get lawyers. These adjustors offer money to the injured person, who often is scared to death about lost wages and big medical bills. The insurance adjustor says, "All you have to do is sign here." The insurance adjustor shows the injured person a legal document called a release that, if signed, forever waives any claims the injured person might have, even if they didn't get fair compensation for their losses, even if they have more medical bills, even if they lose more wages.
Fortunately, injured people have started to figure out that they shouldn't sign such documents, at least not without talking to a lawyer. This lesson is one of the good things to emerge from all that lawyer advertising you see. As a consequence, the tactic of getting people to sign an early release has grown less and less successful.
The Variation on the Old Trick
This new tactic is a variation on the old one. No longer does the insurance company insist that the injured person sign anything. Instead, they have a real nice conversation over the phone in which they promise to help by sending a check. They don't say anything about a release in the conversation. They don't tell the injured person anything about waiving their rights. Then they send a check along with a letter and release and write that if the person cashes the check they've waived all their rights, even if they don't sign the documents. And unless the recipient of the check reads all that dense legalese or sees a lawyer, they don't know what they're doing when they accept the check.
Purchase and George Are Going to Help
Well, we're going to fight this tactic in court. We don't think it's fair to consumers and we don't think the courts will think it's fair, either. But we can't guarantee that we'll win. Our client is, at minimum, going to have the face the delay and uncertainty of the legal fight about this latest insurance company dirty trick.
So, if you've been injured in a Pennsylvania car accident, please be careful before accepting any checks from the other guy's insurance company. In fact, before you talk to the insurance company, call an experienced Pennsylvania car accident lawyer for a free consultation or, maybe even better, order our free book, 'The Ultimate Guide to Pennsylvania Car Accident Cases ."
We Can Help You
If you suspect that an insurance company may be trying to take advantage of you (or if you want help before you even talk to an insurance company), consider a consultation with an experienced Pennsylvania injury attorney. For a free consultation with one of our experienced Erie injury lawyers, call today locally at 814-580-5017 or toll free at 877-505-9548.