Injured accident victims often face a long road of recovery and rehabilitation. And many people can look back after a year or more and see how much progress they have made. Unfortunately, sometimes the recovery from injuries does not go as expected. Sometimes the initial injury proves to be more serious than it seemed at first. In other cases, injuries heal more slowly than expected, and other physical or psychological problems develop and complicate the recovery. For example, many people dealing with chronic, painful conditions (headaches or neck or back pain, for example) begin to show signs of depression or anxiety. Sometimes they begin to have problems sleeping, which complicates and exacerbates their accident-related injuries and conditions. Sometimes a pre-existing condition, either physical or psychological, gets exacerbated or triggered, further complicating and slowing the recovery.
Unfortunately, many accident victims find that they are overall not in much better shape a year or two after their accident, despite going through a rigorous rehabilitation process. That is not necessarily because the therapy has not helped them, but very often because their condition and recovery are being affected by other factors.
If an injured accident victim’s condition worsens or even does not improve, it is very important that they communicate that to their treating health care providers, and to their lawyer. There are two reasons for this, at least. First, it allows the treatment team to try and solve the issues, by referral to specialists, or by changing therapies or medications. And second, it allows the legal team to update and change the case assessment based on the new information.
It is very important for the lawyer to have as complete and accurate a picture as possible before engaging in any settlement discussions. Once a case is settled it cannot be revisited or opened up again. When a case is settled the injured accident victim (the plaintiff) will need to sign a document called a release or a full and final release. In accident benefit claims, a plaintiff or claimant will need to sign a release and a document called a Settlement Disclosure Notice (SDN). In either case, the documents amount to a written agreement that in exchange for a particular sum of money, the claimant or the plaintiff is releasing the defendant or the insurance company from any and all claims for damages or benefits. Accordingly, if their condition worsens after the release is signed, no further or additional compensation can be recovered.
It is common for personal injury claims to take three or even four years to resolve from the time the claim is commenced. Sometimes that is five or six years after the accident. One of the reasons it takes as long as it does is because the lawyer (and the client) need to make sure the recovery is complete and that they have as much information as possible about what the future will hold for the plaintiff and their family. If it is possible (or likely) that their condition will worsen, or that they will require further surgery, or that they will need to retire early or work fewer hours, or need help around the house, that needs to be taken into account as part of any settlement negotiation.
Before the insurance company pays you the agreed-upon amount, you will be asked to sign a release. This document says that you will not hold the other party responsible for future claims from this specific accident. If you have agreed upon an amount but have not yet signed the release and your condition worsens, you can involve your legal team and ask for more money based on the worsened conditions.
In some cases, insurance companies are motivated to resolve claims because they think the claim might get bigger. Experienced and responsible personal injury lawyers are always concerned about quick settlements because they present certain risks (as well as benefits) to their clients. Most accident victims do not want to be involved in a lengthy legal process and want to “move on” with their lives as soon as possible. It is up to the client to decide in the end, but the job of the lawyer is to make sure the client knows both the risks and benefits of a settlement (whenever it may occur) and that the decisions the client makes are informed and reasonable. And a big part of that discussion is often focused on the medical information and the prognosis for the short-term and the long-term future.
If you were involved in an accident, contact our office to discuss your claim and your injuries. We are professionals experienced in dealing with personal injury cases and are happy to help you understand the process and what fair compensation is for you and your family.