Settlement agreements are compromises between two people or companies that face a lawsuit. Their purpose is to avoid the high costs and extensive time involved in taking a case to trial. These settlements, however, include terms that require careful consideration before signing.
In the case of Montgomery v. Montgomery, Chad was trimming a tree on his brother Richard’s land, using a frontloader to lift him high enough to reach the limbs. His father, R.L., was operating the frontloader. R.L. accidently hit the quick release, dropping Chad and injuring him. R.L. was covered by homeowners insurance and farm insurance from Farm Bureau. Richard’s land was covered by insurance from American Reliable Insurance Company. Chad sought a recovery from both Farm Bureau and American Reliable. Chad was able to receive money from both companies through settlements. In the American Reliable settlement agreement, Chad received a $100,000 settlement in turn for agreeing to release both insurance companies and his father from any further claims. The Farm Bureau only agreed to give $1,000, but also included a statement that it was released from all claims.
This release from all claims is a common feature of settlements. The insurance company agrees to pay some amount of money in return for no further liability, or obligation to pay any more. However, this is a major concession on the part of the injured person. In the words of the Farm Bureau agreement, Chad agreed to “release, acquit and forever discharge” the insurance company for any injury sustained, even if it is “not yet evident, recognized or known.” The American Reliable agreement stated that he gave up “any and all…claims” from “any and all known and unknown personal injuries.”
This agreement can only be questioned by a court if there is “substantiating evidence” of mistaken intent. This means that there is evidence showing that the person signing “was mistaken as to what he or she was signing” or that the person “did not intend to release certain aspects of his or her claim.” Otherwise, any challenge to such a settlement will be thrown out of court through summary judgment. The insurer also has a duty to “adjust claims fairly and promptly and to make a reasonable effort to settle claims with the injured [person].” If the insurer misrepresents “pertinent facts or insurance policy provisions relating to any” injury coverage that is at issue, then it violates this duty.
Some time after signing the agreements, Chad began to feel that his injuries were worse than he had originally thought. He then filed a lawsuit against Farm Bureau. He claimed that the agreement with Farm Bureau had been misrepresented to him. The court, however, granted summary judgment to Farm Bureau. It stated that Chad had presented no evidence that he had misunderstood what he was signing. In addition, the American Reliable agreement released Farm Bureau from any claims. Chad argued that there was misrepresentation regarding Farm Bureau, but not regarding the American Reliable agreement.
Settlement agreements involve signing away significant rights to future damages. Such an agreement should be made only with the advice of an experienced attorney.
If you are injured or have signed an agreement which you feel you did not fully understand, call the Berniard Law Firm today to speak to with an attorney immediately.