Can I Get Out of a Personal Injury Settlement

Question:  I was injured in a car wreck.  I did not have a personal injury attorney to represent me.  I tried to negotiate the case myself and verbally agreed to accept a settlement.  I never signed anything nor accepted any money, but I think my case is worth more.  Am I bound by the verbal agreement I made?

Robert’s Answer:  “Yes” and “No.”  If your case was in the lawsuit stage, then the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure require that any settlement agreement would have to be in writing and signed in order to be enforceable.  But since there was no lawsuit pending in your case, the requirement that the settlement be in writing is not applicable and a verbal settlement may be enforceable.

However, there is always a practical side to every legal issue.  I do not know exactly what was said between you and the adjuster regarding settlement.  Therefore, unless you admit to the settlement, the insurance company may be unable to prove it unless they interject themselves into the lawsuit.  This is something insurance companies do not like to do.  And here’s why:

Under the rules of evidence, an insurance company gets to remain anonymous in a personal injury lawsuit.  The theory is that a jury would be more likely to give a higher verdict against the other driver  if they know his insurance company is paying the judgment.  But if they want to introduce evidence of the settlement, then the adjuster will have to take the stand and testify about your phone call.  That can lead to lots of problems which insurance companies would rather avoid.  So, to answer your question, you may be able to avoid the settlement.

But, there is another practical problem.  If you want to hire an attorney now, your history of dealings with the adjuster may have made hiring an attorney unworkable.  That is because the insurance company knows what settlement range you had been discussing earlier and also knows about the friction that was created in your previous dealings with the adjuster.  Likewise, the adjuster may be unwilling to increase that amount to such an extent that makes it economically feasible for you to now involve an attorney.

If you had hired an attorney from the very beginning, your attorney would have been able to manage and build your case in such a way as to optimize its value.  Your attorney would have also been able to consult with you in the event you may have unreasonable expectations about the value of your case.  That is why I always emphasize the importance of hiring an experienced and reputable personal injury lawyer as early as possible.

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