Published on:

Court Decides Car Accident Liability Issue

On September 5, 1990, the complainant was injured in a car accident. The car he was riding was struck by another car driven by the accused. The accused was arrested for driving while intoxicated. The injured man went to the hospital on the date of the car accident and came back two days later. The hospital emergency medical record revealed that the injured man complains of bleeding from throat, blood in urine, swollen back and swollen left foot. As a result of his injuries, the complainant later allegedly developed a bone infection which required the amputation of his toes.

A New York Injury Lawyer revealed that the injured man executed the release claim on October 3, 1990, less than one month after the car accident. When he executed the release, he was not represented by a counsel. The release presents a question as to its sufficiency. Although it contained a space for the notarization of the injured man’s signature, there was no notarization. The blank spaces on the pre-printed release form were imprecisely filled in. The accused persons’ names were misspelled and inverted. The release numerically recited the consideration paid yet the amount written in words was different from the numerical equivalent. The $700 discrepancy is unexplained. As the complainants contend either amount, whichever one represents the actual consideration paid, clearly appears to be far more consistent with the determined value payment for property damage to an aging BMW automobile that was totally destroyed in the car accident than with a personal injury claim.

Notably, after the release was executed, the parties proceeded as if the release covered property damage only. A Westchester County Personal Injury Lawyer said that the action that was commenced in July 1991 seeks only damages for personal injuries. Indeed, the accused persons’ answer, filed shortly thereafter, did not assert the release as a defense. For over two years, the parties proceeded with discovery on the personal injury claim. The complainant proffered communication from the accused person’s insurance carrier written in 1991, which refers to the release and yet sought additional information from the complainants. A later letter from the insurance carrier requested the disclosure of medical records and inquired into the injured complainant’s medical condition. If the insurance carrier believed the release, to which it specifically referred, was intended to cover the injured complainant’s physical injuries then there would have been no cause for the insurance carrier to seek out the requested medical information. It was not until the eve of trial and over three years after the injured complainant executed the release when the accused persons first moved to amend their answer to assert the release as a defense. Under the circumstances, there is a good deal of merit to support the claim that the release was not intended to cover the complainant’s personal damages, and at the very least the issue presents a truthful argument that may not properly be determined as a matter of law.

It is also significant that the complainant have not yet had an opportunity to depose potential witnesses who might have knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the execution of the release. The complainants’ failure to previously seek such discovery is directly attributable to the accused persons’ failure to more promptly raise their affirmative defense of the release.

A summary judgment was properly awarded in favor of the accused on the basis of the release. It is firmly established that a general release is governed by principles of contract law and the traditional bases for setting aside written agreements, namely, persuasion, threat, illegality, fraud, or mutual mistake, must be established otherwise, the release stands. The complainants have come forward with no evidence demonstrating any of the abovementioned grounds for invalidating the release. Rather, they argue that the complainant believed and intended that the release would pertain only to his property injury claim and would not bar a claim for personal injuries. However, the plain and unmistakable terms of the release disprove the contention by expressly releasing the accused from claims of bodily injuries and personal injuries. The law is clear that one who executes a plain and unambiguous release cannot avoid its effect by merely stating that he misinterpreted its terms. Likewise, the language with respect to the parties’ intent is clear and unambiguous and will be given effect, regardless of the other party’s claim that he intended something else.

The complainant further attempted to avoid the effect of the release by claiming that he did not read the document prior to signing it. However, the failure to read an instrument prior to execution has long been held a legally unacceptable basis for refusing to abide by its terms, a principle which has been applied with equal vigor in cases involving releases.

Notwithstanding the established law, the opposition agrees with the complainants’ argument that the parties may have intended the release to apply only to claims for property damage. A Staten Island Personal Injury Lawyer says the opposition finds claimed evidence of a mutual mistake such as executing the release 28 days after the car accident, the complainant was not represented by a counsel at the time of execution, the instrument appears to have been hastily prepared, the settlement amount seems more consistent with a compromise of a property damage claim than a personal injury claim, the complainant may have suffered some type of physical injury, and the accused requested certain information regarding the alleged injury as late as 1991. These factors, whether considered individually or collectively, fall woefully short of raising a question of fact regarding mutual mistake.

It requires particular emphasis that more often than not, the person who executes release of claims in personal injury cases are willing to settle for relatively small sums, or sums that do not discount injuries unknown at the time because of the doubtful liability of the person who benefits from the release, even when ordinary caution would suggest awaiting the development of unknown injuries or consequences. With this form of encouragement, it would be deceitful to assume that the amount of the settlement or the impulsiveness of affecting the settlement is confirmation of a mutual mistake.

Furthermore, while the record contains no evidence indicating that the complainant suffered any car accident-related injury, the issue is in any event irrelevant since he has never premised his mutual mistake contention upon the existence of any injury which was unknown at the time he executed the release. Naturally, if the injury was known, and the mistake was merely as to the consequence of a known injury, then the release will stand. Likewise, the mere circumstance that the accused persons’ insurance carrier continued to correspond with the complainant’s former attorney regarding his claimed injury subsequent to the execution of the release fails to demonstrate that the accused person’s believed the release covered only property damage. Indeed, the correspondence is indicative of nothing more than the insurance carrier’s performance of a fair and cautious investigation of all claims made by the complainant.

The complainant’s assertions of misrepresentation and fraud, belatedly raised on an appeal are similarly unsubstantiated. Significantly, they have never identified the alleged misrepresentation or the person by whom it was made. Additionally, in the Supreme Court papers, the complainants expressly avoided any belief that a fraud occurred, and the improperly vague claim of fraud on the appeal is patently misleading. At best, the complainants have established a mere unilateral mistake on the part of the injured man as to the meaning and effect of the release. Such a mistake does not constitute an adequate basis for invalidating a clear, unambiguous and validly executed release.

Accidents are results of one’s negligence. When you are in a lawsuit caused by a car accident, Stephen Bilkis and Associates can help you unburden the weight of such incidents.

Contact Information