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Be aware of what you are signing. Read everything you sign, especially when settling an auto accident claim. Do not sign any document that doesn’t comply with the terms of the agreement as you understand them to be. If you feel like you are being pushed or rushed to sign, there probably is a reason that you are unaware of.

Once you have settled a claim, there is no re-opening the claim for later discovered injuries or because you were not fully aware of your rights or damages suffered. Any exception to this rule must be spelled out in the agreement. Do not get tricked the way Audrey Pentico claims she was, as was reported today by the Court House News Service:

A woman who was hurt in a car accident has sued National Farmers Union Insurance and its agent, Michael Donnelly, in Salt Lake County Court, claiming Donnelly tricked her into waiving her right to seek damages for her injuries when he gave her a check for damage to her car. Audrey Pentico claims Donnelly told her he needed her signature for a formality, but it was a waiver. She seeks punitive damages.

Usually in a claim arising from an auto accident, there are two distinct claims, a “property damage” claim and a “bodily injury” claim. The “property damage” claim seeks compensation for the damage to your property, normally the damages done to your automobile. The “bodily injury”” claim seeks compensation for the injuries to your person, such as medical expenses, lost income, disability, disfigurement, pain & suffering and so on.

Most times these two types of claims are settled at separate times with separate documents. We have seen insurance companies slip in a “settlement of all claims” provision in a property damage “only” settlement agreement, in order to pull a fast one. We have also seen them print on the settlement check that the check is “settlement of all claims” while they are telling the injured person that the document only applies to the property damage claim.

Read the documents carefully, especially if you are not represented by an attorney. Do not sign anything that does not spell out the agreement as you understand it. If the insurance adjuster has to explain anything to you to get you to sign, that should make you suspicious. If you are being rushed or prevented from consulting with your adviser, be suspicious. I strongly suggest not taking an insurance adjuster’s word for anything. His/her job is to settle your claim for the lowest possible amount of money.

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