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Georgia Court of Appeals Grants Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement of Car Accident Insurance Claims

Car accidents are a common occurrence in and around the Atlanta area.  Unfortunately, many innocent victims are injured crash-car-825017-meach year as the result of one driver’s negligence while behind the wheel.  Injuries sustained in car accidents can range from mild scrapes and abrasions to more serious matters such as broken bones, head trauma, paralysis and even death.  For victims of such cases, it is critical to speak to an experienced, local injury attorney as soon as possible after the accident to determine your rights to compensation for any suffering and losses.

There are many important procedural steps to take when initiating a personal injury action.  The local laws can be confusing and there are critical time limitations to adhere to every step of the way.  Another important aspect of any injury case involving a car vehicle accident is the victim’s right to recover under various insurance policies, depending on the circumstances.  The manner in which one handles the case can impact a victim’s entitlement to a potential damages recovery.

In a recent case, Newton v. Ragland, Ga. Ct. of App. (2013), the appellate court reversed the lower court’s refusal to enforce a settlement agreement in a personal injury action that arose from car accident.  In March 2009, Newton ran a red light at an intersection and crashed into Ragland’s vehicle.  As a result of the accident, Ragland sustained severe injuries.  Newton’s vehicle was covered under two separate insurance policies: her own automobile liability insurance (USAA General Indemnity Company policy) and a Zurich Insurance Company policy that was held by a dealership that owned the car at the time of the accident.

Both policies included a per person bodily coverage limit of $25,000.  Significantly, the victim, Ragland, also had uninsured/underinsured motorist (“UM/UIM”) coverage. In order to move forward with the case, Ragland’s attorney sent a letter to the insurance claims adjusters at both of Newton’s insurance companies demanding the $25,000 payment from each, in return for a limited liability release under Georgia state law.  The letter advised both companies that in order for Ragland to recover UM benefits as well, it would need their respective payments first, by a specified due date.

USAA sent the $25,000 in a timely fashion and included a letter indicating that they have now settled the claim, and attached a general release (instead of a limited one requested).  Ragland’s attorney then faxed a letter confirming receipt of the funds, stating that he assumed the tender of the $25,000 is conditioned upon his client signing the release. He did not mention that the release was general and not limited as originally requested.  He also made no mention that Ragland may not sign the document.

Ragland hired a new attorney and filed this action against Newton claiming that USAA had rejected his settlement offer by providing a general release instead of a limited one.  Newton answered by filing a motion to enforce the original settlement agreement.  The trial court denied the motion.  The court of appeals reversed, finding that the contract to settle the matter was formed when USAA sent the policy limits to Ragland within the offer letter’s due date.  Under contract formation principles, the inclusion of a general liability release was not deemed to “impose a new condition of settlement.”

As one can see from this ruling, it is terribly important to understand the local court rules and state laws that are applicable to car accident cases.  If you have been the victim of a car accident, resulting from the negligence of another, you are encouraged to contact an Atlanta-based injury attorney who can help to protect your rights to a recovery.

Stephen M. Ozcomert is a caring and dedicated injury attorney  with over 20 years of experience handling car accident cases.   Contact us today by calling (404)-370-1000 to schedule your free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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