Moore & Wolfe attorney, Karlos Finley recently visited Blount High School to speak with teachers and administrators at the school regarding the protection of their rights following a motor vehicle accident. Mr. Finley spoke on the importance of first seeking medical treatment and then legal advice prior to signing any paperwork following an accident. The group of educators seemed surprised to hear that liability insurance adjusters will contact individuals who have been involved in auto accidents shortly after the accident and try to have them sign a release prior to getting any medical care or legal advice regarding their rights. The adjusters will often offer a few dollars to the victim as money for the victim’s "inconvenience." To get the money they tell the victim he or she must just simply sign some paperwork so the funds can be delivered. Mr. Finley laid out the typical scenario as follows:
ADJUSTER: Hello, Mr. Doe. This the adjuster with XYZ Insurance Company. I understand that you were in an automobile accident earlier today where my client ran into the back of your car. How do you feel?
MR. DOE: Oh, I’m fine. Just a little soreness in my neck and my low back’s a little stiff. It’ll probably go away in the next few days.
ADJUSTER: Well good Mr. Doe, I’m glad to hear that. Well I know you had to miss some time from work today because of this accident and it looks like our insured is at fault. I’d like to send you $75.00 today for your inconvenience. I just need you to sign some paperwork for my company so they can issue you the check........Oh by the way, I’m going to be out of town working some other claims for the next several weeks, so we need to take care of this today so I can get the check issued before I leave town. Are you near a fax machine?
MR. DOE: Yes sir! As a matter of fact, you can send it here to my work.
ADJUSTER: Good! I will fax this waiver over to you. You can sign it, and fax it back and I will put the check in the mail today.
MR. DOE: Well thank you very much sir. I appreciate that greatly.
Well of course Mr. Doe signs the waiver and release and Mr. Adjuster sends the check. By time the check gets to Mr. Doe, he is so sore that he can’t walk. It feels like his back is stiff and there are sharp shooting pains going down his back and legs. He calls Mr. Adjuster, only to receive a voice mail alerting him that all calls will be returned within 24 hours. Mr. Doe doesn’t know what to do next. So he waits 24 hours and calls back. The conversation goes something like this.
MR. DOE: Yes, Mr. Adjuster, my back and neck have really taken a turn for the worse. I’m experiencing a lot of pain now. I think I need some medical attention.
ADJUSTER: Well, Mr. Doe I’m really sorry to hear that, but our file has been closed on this claim.
MR. DOE: But what about the doctors bills I’m going to have to incur? I need go to the doctor. The pain has spread from my neck down my entire back and into my thighs.
ADJUSTER: Well I don’t know sir, if you have health insurance, they may cover it.
MR. DOE: But what about you? Your insured caused this accident. Aren’t you responsible for this.
ADJUSTER: No sir, remember the paperwork you signed a few days ago. That paperwork releases our company from any further liability as it relates to this accident. That was all explained in the paperwork you signed. We have nothing further to do with this situation.
MR. DOE: Well I think that I’m going to see a lawyer. I don’t think that’s right.
ADJUSTER: Well sir you go right ahead and talk to a lawyer. Just make sure you tell them you signed a Release of All Claims and cashed the check we sent you. They’ll tell you under Alabama law there’s nothing that you can do. As I said before, this claim has been closed and this company has no further obligation to you. Good day.
Mr. Finley explained that, unfortunately, this scenario happens all too often in our State. In Alabama our Appellate Courts have strictly construed releases and documents signed by victims and consumers. Simply put when you sign a document in our State you are deemed to have read and understood the terms and conditions in that document, no matter what someone else tells you the document says or means. See, Foremost Insurance Company v. Parham, 693 So.2d 409 (Ala. 1997). This means adjusters are free to work loosely with facts and implications in order to secure a victim’s signature on a Release. Mr. Finley concluded his presentation by explaining to the group that the above scenario had recently occured to one of their members. That memeber had invited Mr. Finley to address the group so others would not be victimized in the future.