Here are today’s two lessons from a court decision yesterday: (1) Take your time before settling your case. (2) Talk to a lawyer before settling a case.
I often warn victims of car wrecks or other accidents to be aware of insurance companies’ “swoop and settle” tactics. In these situations, the insurance company (GEICO seems to be the worst) contacts you immediately after a wreck and makes an immediate settlement offer to try to get you to give up your rights before you know how bad you are hurt or before you know your rights.
Yesterday, the Dallas Court of Appeals handed down a new case that shows just how this terrible practice works.
In the case, Windell Gilbert was injured in a car wreck. GEICO was the insurance company that covered the driver who caused the wreck.
Eight days after the wreck, GEICO called and suggested to Mr. Gilbert that they settle the case for GEICO’s payment of the medical expenses incurred on the date of the accident (which totaled $4,806.75) and $500.00 to Mr. Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert agreed, and the GEICO representative had them do a recorded call confirming that settlement.
Not surprisingly, but Mr. Gilbert ended up being hurt much worse than he thought. He went to a doctor and had over $15,000.00 more in medical expenses.
Mr. Gilbert later sued the other driving, arguing that the first settlement was unfair. But yesterday’s opinion held that Mr. Gilbert and GEICO had a binding agreement and that Mr. Gilbert was bound to the $500.00 agreement. Moreover, the court awarded GEICO (through the other driver) $10,000.00 in attorneys’ fees against Mr. Gilbert.
This case is a perfect example of why car wreck victims should wait to talk to an attorney and to take a little time before settling a case. Initially, even if Mr. Gilbert wasn’t hurt more than just needing medical care on the first day, the offer from GEICO was a terrible offer. But more importantly, people are often hurt more than they realize. Problems linger or don’t show up until later. I typically advise my clients that in most cases, you shouldn’t settle until you know you’re better or until a doctor tells you you’re not better, but you’re as good as you’re going to get.
So remember the lessons for car wreck (and really all injury) claims. Don’t settle too early, and don’t settle without talking to a personal injury lawyer.