A Superior Court decision in Delaware is the perfect illustration of why it matters how quickly you consult with or hire an attorney. Although the underlying accident seemed to involve two passenger vehicles, the decision itself is relevant to any sort of vehicle, especially in the context of trucking accidents, where the insurance companies will be highly motivated to settle the matter as soon and for as little as possible.
In the case, Bernal v. Feliciano, Del. Sup. Ct. (2013), the plaintiff was involved in a car accident.
Following the accident, the plaintiff, who spoke only Spanish, had her daughter discuss the issue of lost wages at work due to the accident. She reached an agreement as to the lost wages for $410 with the adjuster, and he faxed over a cover sheet regarding the agreement, along with a general release. The language in the release included wording that stated that it was a release for any and all potential suits or claims, and any and all personal injuries or property damage known and unknown, foreseen and unforeseen. Believing that the release, which was sent with the cover letter regarding the $410, was only for wages, and based on her daughter’s telephone conversation with the adjuster, the plaintiff signed the release, and sent it back that day. This was in March of 2012.
In September 2012, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit, and the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which was later transformed into a motion for summary judgment, based upon the execution of the release.
The court engaged in a discussion of similar cases, whereby plaintiffs either hastily settled, or simply did not read what they were signing. All of those releases were upheld, as due to a lack of fraud, the language was crystal clear.
Therefore, it was unsurprising when it reached the decision regarding this case, that the plaintiff could not avoid the enforcement of the release on the claim that she was misled by the agent as to the extent of the release, “because the clear language of the release should have alerted the Plaintiff that its scope was broader than a wage claim, and included all claims arising from the accident.”
Maryland law operates similarly. In the landmark case on this matter, Bernstein v. Kapneck, 290 Md. 452 (1981), the court ruled in the case of a plaintiff later seeking to invalidate a release which granted a waiver, “on account of bodily injuries, known and unknown, and which have resulted or may in the future develop,” and found that the language regarding what was being released couldn’t have been clearer.
However, Maryland has some special protections in place in order to prevent the potential for predatory settlements. For example, settlements reached without the aid of an attorney within 30 days of a personal injury are voidable within 60 days following the signing of the document. However, it is important to keep in mind that the statute says the agreement is “voidable“, not void. This is distinct from being void, which means that something cannot be enforced at all. Therefore, there is the potential that an agreement falling within these parameters could be upheld.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a trucking accident that occurred in the Maryland or Washington D.C. areas, contact the experienced trucking accident attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC as soon as possible following your accident. This case demonstrates how misunderstandings can be legally binding, and leave you far from compensated for your injuries and other damages. You can reach us by calling 1-800-654-1949 or through this website, in order to schedule your initial complimentary consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Court Rejects Trucking Company’s Appeal Following Fatal Tractor Trailer-Pedestrian Accident, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published December 9, 2013
The Concept of Punitive Damages in Trucking Accident Cases, Maryland Trucking Accident Lawyer Blog, published December 2, 2013