Georgia Limited Liability Releases and General Releases
As a general rule, when you are injured in a car accident in Georgia, the other driver’s insurance company will only pay for their client’s negligence when they are closing the case out. When the insurance company makes an offer to settle the claim, they will require you to sign a “release.”
A release is nothing more than a contract where you as the injured party agree to give up certain legal claims in exchange for payment of money. When it comes to dealing with car accident injuries in Atlanta, Georgia, you will typically find that there are two types of releases; a “general release” and a “limited liability release.”
A general release says that you are giving up any and all rights to ever sue the at fault drivert in exchange for payment. Once signed and paid, there are no “backsies.” this kind of release can be deadly to you case if there is other liability insurance covering the driver who hit you. The most common mistake that people who are not represented by a Georgia car accident lawyer make is to sign a general release when they would have had access to more insurance for their loss through their uninsured motorist insurance coverage. Remember our page how Georgia uninsured motorist insurance works?
In most cases you will want to enter into a limited liability release as this will leave most of your options open. A limited liability release was conjured by the Georgia legislature so that people who had serious injuries in car accidents could settle part of the case with the at fault party’s insurance and then pursue their own uninsured motorist insurance at a later date. The li mites liability release releases your claim to sue the at fault driver for their personal assets like cars houses and cash; however remember that it is very rare that you are injurious by someone who actually has significant equity in a home or serious cash assets so you really are not giving up anything of value.
The real dangers in these releases lies in two areas; first many include dangerous indemnity provisions and second we are seeing more and more uninsured motorist insurance companies trying to argue that the limited release presented by the at fault insurance company wiped out their right to one day sue the at fault motorist for subrogation (claim for payback of money the um insurer paid you from the bad guy). Here is an example of a dangerous “catch-all” type subrogation clause.
These clauses state that you will pay the at fault insurer back if they are ever sued by basically anyone and that you will pay for their attorneys fees if that does happen. I have no problem with that if the things we indemnify for are workers compensation subrogation claims, Medicaid, Medicare or Georgia medical liens. These entities are easy to identify and the at fault insurer really does need to cover their butts in this regard. My beef with the language is that they sometimes have catch-all language that can very possibly expose the client to suit.
One example where a broad indemnity clause could cause you trouble is when your own insurance company sues the at fault driver for subrogation on either the property damage repair bill they paid on your behalf or for bodily.
UM Insurer Takes Umbrage with the Limited Liability Release You Signed
We have had a situation where Progressive refused to pay on a UM case claiming that the Limited Liability Release we had the client sign in favor of the at fault driver and Geico released Progressive’s ability to sue for property damage subrogation. We eventually got Geico to make some changes to the document and it worked out but the lesson here is, be very careful. In fact, the safest thing to do is to send the draft of the Limited Liability Release to the Uninsured Motorist insurance company for comment.
Always remember that if you are married and will be pursuing an uninsured motorist claim in Georgia to not have your spouse sign the release. In Thompson v. Allstate Insurance Co. ,
285 Ga. 24, 673 S.E.2d 227 (2009), the Georgia Supreme Court allowed the UM insurer out of the case without paying because they argued that some of the money paid to the husband and wife in the limited liability release must have been for the wife’s injury claim and therefore the limits of the underlying tortfeasor were not exhausted. Although the situation might change with different facts on an uninjured spouse, the danger is too great to risk. See also Mercer’s Law Review digest of insurance law for Georgia for a more complete discussion.