Can I sue for pain and suffering after a life-changing accident even after taking an insurance settlement?

I sustained a spinal cord injury due to an auto accident where I was the passenger of a driver who was DUI. Because he was DUI, the insurance settlement was only limited to $15,000. Can I take him to civil court to sue him for pain and suffering, even after settling with his insurance company?

Asked on September 13, 2011 under Personal Injury, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

It depends on the terms of the settlement--you need to review the agreement. First, as a general matter, if you have a claim for (for the sake of example) $200,000 and the insurance policy limit is $15,000, if the insurer pays out $15k, you could still sue the other party for the $185k. However, that is subject to the specific language of the settlement agreement: if the agreement says that the $15k was paid to you as settlement in full of all claims arising from the auto accident, that may preclude you from suing for  the balance that you otherwise theoretically might have; that's because in that case, you would have agreed to take the $15k as you complete or full compensation. So the language of any settlement agreement is critical to determining whether you can sue for more, and you may wish to have an attorney review it with you.

Also: you have to ask yourself whether, even if you can sue, it is worth doing so. People who buy inexpensive insurance with low limits often have little income or assets (that's why they bought so little insurance--they couldn't afford more, and/or had nothing to protect). It may be the case that you could sue, win, and still be unable to collect--but now you've incurred the cost of a lawsuit. So think about whether this particular other party is likely to have the resources to pay a judgment in your favor.

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