I got a call one day about 15 years ago from a young man (we will call him J.D.) who was injured when a truck driven by his friend rolled over several times in a solo traffic collision. J.D. was a young farm hand from a small town in Central California. He had previously worked at various local farms building and repairing fences and doing other odd jobs as needed around his farm community. J.D. loved nothing more than to hunt for boar and fish when he wasn't working on a neighboring farm.
J.D. called me and we talked for a quite a while. Then I spoke with J.D.'s parents to confirm some details of his story. J.D. was hospitalized after his car accident. When he came to he realized that he had a severely fractured ankle that required surgery. He didn't have any health insurance and didn't know what to do. The hospital continued to treat him due to the serious nature of his injuries. He had multiple ankle surgeries before he left the hospital and ultimately was discharged with a variety of pain medications and a cast on his ankle.
J.D. went on to describe a story that I had only heard of, but never imagined could really happen. He told me that an insurance adjuster (We can call him Dick) had come to his home, very shortly after he was discharged from the hospital. Dick told J.D. that if he signed the "forms" he brought with him, J.D. would get $5,000 and have all of his future medical bills paid. The adjuster told J.D. that if he didn't sign the form he would be stuck with his medical bills and take nothing for his pain and suffering. Feeling as though he had no choice, still bed-ridden and on multiple pain medications, J.D. signed Dick's insurance company release forms, took his $5,000 and went on toward a slow recovery.
Several months later J.D. saw a problem develop. The insurance company stopped paying his medical bills. J.D. did not know what to do, so he called me. I told J.D. that I was not sure what I could do, if anything, to help him. J.D. had already signed a release of claims, which released the liable party from any further financial obligation. I told him I would look into his situation.
I began to investigate the claim. At first, I made a couple telephone calls to the insurance company to try to check out J.D.'s story. It appeared to me that everything J.D. had told me was true and I was mad. I explained to J.D. that even if we were right, we still had the problem of trying to get him out from under his signed release of all claims. The only way to do this was to sue and I knew it would be a battle with the insurance company. I asked J.D. for his permission to file a law suit to try to help him. He reluctantly agreed. We sued, naming his friend who was driving the car as the sole defendant. I served the lawsuit and we immediately got a phone call from the opposing attorney. He was an amicable young man who told me that my alleging could not be true. The lawyer said that he knew Dick for years and that not only was he a good adjuster but he was also a retired police officer who would never do the things I said he did.
The litigation got ugly fast. The other side dragged us into court alleging that we had no case because J.D. had signed his release and the case should be over. We fought hard. We eventually convinced a judge in San Luis Obispo County that there were real questions of fact in our case and that it should go forward. After several months of litigation, the insurance company offered us some more money to settle. We said no and continued our fight. We went back to court several times with our claim. Eventually, just before a court hearing on a very important issue in our case, the other side made us an offer we could not refuse. We settled J.D.'s claim and got his medical bills paid and an additional $45,000.00 for his pain and suffering. We were able to get around his signed release and obtain a bodily injury settlement nine times greater than he was given before we started.
It should be noted that our settlement was limited by the amount of insurance coverage that was involved here. We were also hindered by the fact that J.D. had serious reservations about suing his friend and by no means did he want to get a money judgment against his friend. In the end, I believe justice was served for J.D.
The moral to the story is this: If you or someone you love has been injured, don't sign anything without talking to an experienced injury lawyer first. I am not an ambulance chaser, I am a strong advocate for my injured clients and their families.
If you have questions about any personal injury case please contact me:
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firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 783-5700