Alabama Auto Accident Claims: Don’t Sign It Away
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UPDATED: Aug 5, 2019
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Auto accident victims in Alabama face certain limitations when filing an insurance claim and legal experts warn victims to make sure they understand the process to avoid signing away their claim.
Alabama has what’s called a guest statute, according to Dana Taunton, an Alabama attorney whose practice focuses on product liability and personal injury matters. She explained how the statute works, “[A guest statute] means that if you are riding in a car that someone else is driving and he or she causes an accident in which you are injured, you cannot recover against the driver unless there has been some type of payment by you for the service of riding in that car. It’s almost an immunity statute. So, unless you paid the driver, say in a situation where you were sharing expenses for a long trip or the driver was acting with recklessness, you can’t recover.”
Don’t sign away your claim
Taunton says that to understand how not to sign away claims, accident victims need to know how accident, doctor and police reports can, and cannot, be used under Alabama law. She explained, “Accident reports are not admissible in a court of law in Alabama. Police officers can have the report in front of them to refresh their memories when they testify in court, but the report itself cannot be introduced in evidence.”
However, Taunton warns that auto accident victims should know that when they speak with a police officer or a doctor, everything they say is subject to discovery in Alabama. She told us:
So, if they tell their doctor that their back hurts or that it’s feeling a lot better, the doctor will put it in his medical records and then those records are subject to discovery and would be admissible in a court of law.
Defense attorneys working for the insurance companies have told me that they will get every medical record they can on victims. There are no technical limits to what they can get or how far back they can go either. However, most courts decide how far back a defendant can get a person’s medical records on a case by case basis.
If the victim has not spoken with an attorney and the insurance company, or their adjuster or agent, wants them to sign documents, there are certain things to be aware of. Sometimes, they want the victim to sign a release to all of their claims. Sometimes they want them to sign a release so that they can get their medical records. Unfortunately, many victims don’t really understand exactly what they’re signing.
So, victims shouldn’t sign anything that an insurance company sends them without reading it first and talking to a lawyer about it. Once victims sign away that medical release, they’re giving the insurance company carte blanche to their medical histories and all of their doctors.
What to do if you’ve already signed a release
According to Taunton, if you’ve already signed a release and want to rescind it, contact an attorney immediately. She explained, “Typically, the only way to rescind a medical release is to have the patient or the patient’s attorney write a letter to the medical providers (and copy the insurance agent) rescinding all prior medical releases and also include a new release, consistent with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations, which contains time restrictions limiting the release of medical information to a time certain and limiting how long the release is valid.”
Honesty really is the best policy
It’s clear that accident victims face unneeded pressure from their insurers. Contacting an attorney in these types of situations is always a good idea because there’s so much involved. However, Taunton stressed the importance of clients being honest with their attorney. She explained, “When they sit down with their attorney in private, they need to be forthcoming. We’ll ask them about their background, what type of injuries they’ve had in the past and which doctors they’ve seen. It’s important for them to be open and honest with us so that we can prepare for the case.”
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, consult with an attorney whose practice focuses in this area of the law to discuss your situation. Consultations are free, without obligation and are strictly confidential. To contact a qualified attorney, please click here.