If you get hurt in a car crash, for example, you might file a claim or lawsuit against the responsible party’s insurance company. While some claims proceed all the way to a courtroom trial where a judge or jury renders a verdict, it is more common for the two parties to reach a settlement on their own terms before things reach the point of a formal trial.
Settlement agreements almost always include a provision that requires each party to agree they will never make another claim against the other based on the same accident or set of circumstances. This is referred to as a mutual release agreement.
So if you were an injured victim who entered into a settlement and mutual release agreement in California, you might now be wondering: can I still sue after a settlement?
The General Rule: No, You Can’t Still Sue After a Settlement.
In the vast majority of cases, mutual release agreements are drafted carefully and will be strictly enforced. There are very few situations in which an injured victim can file a claim after a settlement.
Do you have any options, then? That will depend on the specific circumstances of your situation. Below, we look at the narrow exceptions to the general rule about filing a claim or lawsuit after signing a settlement in California.
Challenges Based on the Terms of the Settlement Agreement
Most settlement agreements are written with a great deal of forethought and precision, using language that has been upheld in California in the past. Certainly, if your settlement agreement was prepared by a large insurance company, the language was likely drafted to be “airtight.”
Occasionally, however, a settlement agreement will be written in a way that is sloppy, vague, imprecise, or unconventional. In these situations, you may be able to effectively get out of the settlement agreement — either by invalidating the relevant parts of the agreement or by successfully arguing that the terms do not in fact prohibit you from filing another lawsuit or claim.
It is impossible to comment on the effectiveness of the language in your particular settlement agreement without reviewing it carefully and in light of the surrounding facts and circumstances.
If you have reason to believe that your settlement might be vulnerable to a challenge (and that you have grounds for making an additional claim to compensation in the event that the settlement agreement is set aside), we encourage you to contact our Bakersfield personal injury lawyers to discuss the matter.
What If You Got Bad Legal Advice?
Unfortunately, arguing that you entered the settlement agreement because of bad legal advice typically won’t be enough to get you out of a mutual release agreement.
Depending on the circumstances, you might have a claim against your former attorney(s) for professional malpractice. However, such a claim generally requires more than just a feeling that you should have gotten different advice or a better outcome.
Even if you were to succeed in a malpractice claim against your legal representative, that in itself still would not allow you to set aside the underlying settlement or mutual release agreement.
Settlement in Bad Faith
A court may be willing to strike down your settlement agreement if you can prove that the terms were arrived at in bad faith.
Examples might include any evidence that the insurance company or the defendant engaged in:
These situations are rare, and proving bad faith after the fact can be extremely difficult. It isn’t enough merely to argue that you didn’t understand the contract, or made a mistake.
Filing a New Claim or Lawsuit Against the Defendant
While the settlement agreement will prohibit you from filing another claim or lawsuit based on the same accident or set of facts, it won’t prohibit you from making a claim against the same person / company based on an entirely separate incident.
For example, if Bob runs a red light in April and hits Susan’s car, causing injuries, Susan can seek a claim against Bob. Let’s imagine that Susan ultimately reaches a $100,000 settlement agreement with Bob’s insurance carrier, Oops Insurance Co.
If Susan later learns that her injuries from the April accident with Bob are worse than the initial diagnosis, and now her medical bills are a lot higher than she expected, Susan unfortunately will not be able to claim more money from Bob or from Oops Co. Because she signed the settlement agreement, she released them both from any liability arising out of that accident.
But what if Bob hits Susan again in a separate auto accident in the month of September? Susan will now be able to pursue an entirely separate claim against Bob and/or Oops Co. based on the September accident… but still not based on the facts of the April accident.
Likewise, if Susan gets into an accident with a different driver, Meredith, who also has an Oops Insurance Co. policy, Susan’s settlement agreement from the April accident won’t prohibit her from making a claim against Oops based on the accident with Meredith.
Filing a Separate Claim or Lawsuit Against a Third Party
Continuing with our example from the previous section, let’s imagine that there were three drivers involved in the April auto accident: Susan, Bob, and Thomas.
Susan may have settled her claim again Bob, but that won’t keep her from seeking compensation from Thomas (even if Thomas also has an Oops Co. insurance policy).
If you find yourself asking, “Can I still sue after a settlement?” your best and most realistic option might be filing a separate claim against a third party.
Of course, whether there is another liable party will depend entirely on the specific circumstances of your claim. You should discuss the matter carefully with an experienced Bakersfield personal injury lawyer. Third parties may include other drivers, vehicle manufacturers, local governments, or anyone else who contributed to your damages.
This Is Why You Need to Be Very Careful About Signing a Settlement Agreement
Susan’s situation is not uncommon.
Too many accident victims have entered into a settlement agreement only to later learn that their medical bills or other damages are more extensive than they expected (or that they are otherwise entitled to more financial compensation than they realized).
Don’t make that mistake. Before you enter into a settlement agreement and forever lose your ability to file a claim after a settlement, discuss your options with an experienced Bakersfield personal injury lawyer. The Law Offices of Mickey Fine can help.
The Law Offices of Mickey Fine Will Fight to Get You the Terms You Deserve.
Don’t face the insurance companies on your own. A Bakersfield personal injury lawyer at The Law Offices of Mickey Fine can protect your interests throughout the claims process.
We will fight for a full and fair settlement of your claim. And while we have been able to successfully resolve the majority of our clients’ claims by way of private settlement, if going to court is what it takes to get you the justice you deserve, we are ready and willing to do so.
To learn more about your rights and options, contact our office and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Time limits do apply to personal injury claims in California, so please don’t delay.
The initial consultation is absolutely free. We will never charge a fee for our services unless we get you money first. Call 661-333-3333 to talk with an experienced personal injury attorney today, or contact us online right away.