What does it mean when you sign a release of liability after a car crash?
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I was involved in a car accident a few days ago and the other drivers insurance company made an offer to fix my car and also sent a release of liability. What is this and do I need to sign it?
No, you absolutely do not need to sign the release of liability. In fact, you probably shouldn’t sign it so soon after the accident -- and before the proverbial dust has settled. Are the estimates of the damage to your vehicle accurate? Could there be hidden damage you don’t know about? Do you have seemingly inconsequential soreness or minor injuries? Have you been to your doctor to have yourself check out, at least as a precaution? Keep in mind that car accidents are notorious for prompting late-appearing injuries.
You don’t want to sign any release of liability -- in which you’re essentially saying you give up the right to any compensation aside from the amount stated in the agreement -- until you have a crystal clear picture of all of your losses (actual and potential) stemming from the accident.
The insurance company wants you to sign the release now, because your known losses up to this point are clear (right now it’s just the cost to fix your vehicle damage) but the full extent of the impact of the accident might not have come to light yet. Right now, the dollar amount required to get your car fixed is the absolute minimum the insurer will be on the hook for, so it’s no surprise that the insurer is trying to get you to “lock in” that minimum for them, by signing the release.
There’s no rush for you to sign a release of liability, no matter what the insurance adjuster is telling you. Your claim can still proceed, you can still get your car fixed, and you can still wait to see if any other problems arise. Bottom line: Signing a release too early can only hurt you, and can only benefit the insurance company.
If you’re getting unreasonable pressure from the insurer to sign the release, or you’re unsure about the right thing to do, it may make sense to discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.