If your injury worsens after you have already settled for your personal injury case, you may be wondering if you can get additional compensation. Most people assume their case is closed for good after signing a release and accepting a settlement offer. However, this is not always the case. There are certain situations where you may be able to reopen your claim and seek additional compensation if your condition worsens down the road.
This article will explain what happens if your injury worsens after settling your personal injury case. We will discuss your different legal options, how to calculate any additional compensation you may be entitled to, and what you need to do to get medical treatment for a worsened injury after accepting a settlement.
There are a few reasons why an injury may worsen after you have settled your case:
- New symptoms or complications can develop over time, even after treatment. Some injuries cause progressive damage or degeneration.
- Inaccurate medical diagnoses or prognoses during the initial treatment and legal process. Doctors cannot always predict how much an individual will recover.
- The injury’s full extent was unknown at the time of settlement. Some conditions get worse gradually.
- Mistakes or negligence during medical treatment and rehabilitation can exacerbate injuries.
- Developing another injury or condition in the same body area, which impacts recovery.
- Pre-existing conditions may interact with the injury in unexpected ways.
If your injury worsens substantially after settling, it likely means the full value of your claim was higher than the initial compensation settlement.
The full value of a personal injury claim is the total amount of damages the injured person should reasonably receive to cover all losses and future impacts.
- Medical expenses already paid.
- Estimated costs of future medical care and treatment.
- Lost income and reduced earning capacity.
- Calculated costs for disability or permanent impairment.
- Pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment, and emotional distress.
- Other damages like property loss.
When you settle, your personal injury lawyer works to negotiate the maximum compensation possible based on known losses and predicted future costs. But the unanticipated worsening of an injury means the full claim value was underestimated.
During settlement negotiations, the at-fault party’s insurance company will require you to sign a “full and final release” or “full and final settlement” document. This legal contract states you will not pursue additional compensation from the liable insurer or defendant.
By signing, you agree that the settlement offer fully satisfies your claim, regardless of future events. This allows the insurer to close your file permanently.
However, the specific terms matter. Agreements can include clauses that allow reopening if the injury recurs or disability status changes. Some exclude future medical expenses. Review settlement documents carefully before signing.
If your condition significantly deteriorates after settling, can you reopen your closed personal injury claim? There are a few options injured victims may pursue:
- Prove fraud – If the insurer deliberately concealed known issues or risks to get you to accept a low settlement, you may be able to prove bad faith or fraud. This can potentially invalidate the release.
- Sue the medical provider – If malpractice during treatment caused your injury to worsen, you could have a case against the negligent doctor or hospital. Their liability insurer would become the new defendant.
- Sue other liable parties – Were there other potentially responsible parties besides the one(s) you already settled with? You may be able to file a fresh injury claim against additional defendants.
- Claim against alternate insurance policies – Underinsured motorist coverage could apply if the at-fault driver’s policy limits were inadequate.
- Request modified workers’ compensation settlement – In a work injury claim, you may be able to reopen your workers’ comp case and seek additional disability benefits.
- Negotiate more compensation – It’s also possible to contact the claims adjuster and attempt to negotiate additional settlement funds from the same insurer, if your worsening injury is connected to the original accident or incident.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help determine your options. The outcome depends on the specific circumstances and the terms of your original settlement agreement.
If your injury has worsened after settling your claim, here is what you need to know about potentially reopening your case:
Requirements for reopening
There are a few key requirements in order to reopen a settled case:
1. Your injury must have worsened or deteriorated after the date you settled. This does not apply to the normal progression of an already accounted-for injury.
2. The worsened or deteriorated injury must be related to or caused by the original injury that you already received compensation for.
3. You must still be within the statute of limitations. There are strict deadlines on the window to reopen a settled claim.
Process for reopening
Here are the typical steps to reopen a settled compensation case:
1. Contact the claims handler or insurance company and provide medical evidence of your worsened injury. Explain why you are entitled to additional compensation.
2. If the claims handler rejects reopening your claim, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to explore your options. An attorney can negotiate on your behalf or file a lawsuit if appropriate.
Calculating additional compensation
If you are successful in reopening your settled case, here is how additional compensation is typically calculated:
1. Determine the full value of your claim now, with the worsened injury factored in. Gather evidence of increased medical expenses, lost wages, reduced earning capacity, and other losses.
2. Subtract the amount already paid to you in the original settlement.
3. Any difference between the new full value and the original settlement amount will be the additional compensation you are owed. Your personal injury lawyer can help calculate and demand the additional compensation.
One common scenario is when your injury worsens to the point of requiring expensive surgery, therapy, or other treatments you did not anticipate needing when you settled your case.
For example, you may have settled believing only minor follow-up chiropractic care was needed after a serious car accident. But later, your doctors determine you need spinal fusion surgery, costing over $100,000.
Or, with a damaged knee injury, you settled, thinking therapy would help your knee heal. But then, your knee injury leads to arthritis and eventual full knee replacement surgery.
These types of major changes in treatment requirements can be very costly. Unfortunately, if you signed a full release, the at-fault defendant’s insurer is no longer obligated to cover your medical bills. You cannot force them to pay for the new treatment without reopening your closed claim.
There may be multiple liable parties if someone’s negligence caused your injury. For instance, if you were hurt in a truck accident, potential defendants could include:
- The truck driver who caused the crash.
- The trucking company that employed the driver.
- The manufacturer of a defective part that failed on the truck.
- The loading company that improperly loaded the truck’s cargo.
- The transportation company that contracted the delivery.
When settling, your claim typically will be against one primary defendant, often the driver or their employer. However, if your injury worsens later on, you may be able to pursue additional compensation by suing another potentially liable party that contributed to the accident.
Your ability to file a fresh injury claim against a different defendant depends on several factors:
- Their actual role and liability for the incident.
- The laws in your state regarding injury claims and statutes of limitation.
- The specific terms and scope of your original settlement agreement.
- The new defendant’s assets, insurance coverage, and ability to pay damages.
If your condition substantially worsens months or years after settling your personal injury claim, talk to a lawyer immediately to evaluate your options. An experienced personal injury attorney can advise you on the best way to reopen your case or pursue additional funds potentially.
Your lawyer will review factors like:
- The specific injuries involved and how they have degenerated.
- The terms and scope of the original settlement.
- Applicable state laws and timeliness for claims.
- Any evidence of fraud or bad faith by insurers.
- Other potentially liable parties.
- Options for proving additional losses and damages.
Strategies may include:
- Attempting to negotiate more compensation from the same insurer.
- Suing the medical provider for causing your worsened condition.
- Making a claim with your insurance provider.
- Proving fraud or nondisclosure of key information by the defendant.
- Filing a fresh injury lawsuit against a separate liable party.
- In a work injury claim, requesting a modified workers’ comp settlement.
While challenging, in some cases, it may be possible to pursue additional damages if your injury’s full severity was not properly determined initially. An experienced lawyer can advise if reopening your settlement is a viable option. Prompt legal help is crucial, so contact an attorney immediately if your injury worsens substantially after settling your case.
In conclusion, here are some key points to remember:
- Understand the full value of your claim before accepting a settlement offer.
- A full and final release prevents you from filing a future claim against the same party.
- Once a settlement is reached, it’s typically impossible to reopen the case if your injury worsens, with few exceptions.
- Even after a settlement, if other parties contributed to your injury, you might be able to file a claim against them.
- If your injury worsens after a settlement, consult a personal injury lawyer to explore your legal options.
- You can file a new claim in case of a recent injury after a settlement.
- If multiple parties are at fault, you can negotiate settlements with each to ensure maximum compensation.
- The compensation for a workplace injury can cover medical expenses, lost wages, and disability or permanent disability benefits.
Suppose your injury worsens significantly after you settle your personal injury claim. In that case, you may have options to reopen your case and pursue additional compensation. The key is to document the worsened injury, consult a personal injury attorney to explore your legal options based on your specific situation, prove your claim’s increased value, and follow the proper process to reopen your case. While not always guaranteed, hiring an experienced lawyer gives you the best chance to receive the maximum compensation you rightfully owe.