I just got a check for $10k. Can I keep it? YANAL.
February 20, 2015 4:37 PM   Subscribe

A year ago, I was involved in a car accident that was not my fault. Now, in exchange for being released from any future liability for injuries relating to the accident, the other person's car insurance has issued a check directly to me. For $10k. This feels too good to be true--is it?

About a year ago, I was involved in a car accident while driving interstate to visit family. I was unquestionably not at fault (multiple witnesses, both drivers agreed) but my car wound up being totaled and my airbag deployed. In light of this, I went to the ER to get checked out just in case, despite being pretty sure I was fine aside from a small cut on my wrist from the airbag. My insurance has paid for all but about $600 of my medical bills, but to my knowledge the other person's insurance has only paid for the worth of my car (through my car insurance). Now, in exchange for being released from any future liability for injuries relating to the accident, the other person's car insurance has issued a check directly to me. For $10k. This feels too good to be true--is it?

It's worth noting that I did not handle the medical insurance stuff particularly well--I was 23 at the time and was (and am) double insured under my parents' health insurance and also my own university insurance from my work. At the time, I wasn't sure about the difference between primary and secondary health insurance, so I gave the hospital for my parents' insurance which I'd been in the habit of using. I was told by multiple people before I went that I wouldn't have to pay for anything, so I've been playing insurance bingo for the past year and a half about who will pay the medical bills (which total about $7.5k). Currently, all but about $300-$600 are paid for--I think closer to $300--by my own health insurance and my auto insurances' personal injury liability.

Also worth noting: as far as ANYONE can tell in the year and several months which have elapsed since the accident, I am totally fine and have suffered no lasting damage. I was pretty sure I was fine at the time, but wanted to get checked out just in case because my partner and also the nurse who'd observed the accident and who helped me collect myself before talking to the police told me that I absolutely needed to do that. Because of this, when the auto insurance people called and offered a check to me in exchange for releasing them from future liability for my injuries, I accepted and sent them a notarized release. However, I thought that check would be on the order of $2.5k or something, not $10k.

Basically, I just got five months' salary handed to me apparently for no reason. Is this a thing that happens? Do I need to give this money to some insurance company? Or can I go "ah, what a lovely unexpected windfall" and squirrel most of it away as savings? I will definitely be paying off the remaining balance on the ER visit ASAP, but I'm not quite sure what my responsibility is from there.
posted by sciatrix to Work & Money (16 answers total)
This is probably a question for a lawyer, since by cashing a check you are promising not to sue. The insurance company expects to gain something from this promise.

It's worth your time to find out just exactly what that is.
posted by bilabial at 4:39 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

And let me be clear.

By probably, I mean, definitely. A lawyer who is your lawyer, and not a stranger from the internet. A lawyer who knows all the relevant jurisdiction(s) and the actual facts of your situation.

A lawyer.
posted by bilabial at 4:40 PM on February 20, 2015 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Before they sent the check, I sent them a notarized document promising not to sue them for future medical bills resulting from the accident. So they definitely have gotten something out of me, but it's something I feel comfortable giving up.
posted by sciatrix at 4:40 PM on February 20, 2015

Best answer: IAABIIA / IANYBIIA (I Am A Bodily Injury Insurance Adjuster / I Am Not Your Bodily Injury Insurance Adjuster).

This is not "too good to be true," unless you feel that you are still in pain and require future medical treatment and, therefore, were not yet ready to settle.

By signing a release and cashing the check, you no longer have legal recourse against the tortfeasor (the person who caused the accident). Your insurance company would seek to do the same in order to protect you, were the tables turned and you were at fault for hitting someone else with your car and they endured Bodily Injury because of it.

MeMail me and I can get a lot more detailed with you. I do this for a living.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:41 PM on February 20, 2015 [11 favorites]

Uh. In exchange? Nothing preceded this? Do you have a lawyer representing you in connection with the accident?
posted by sevensnowflakes at 4:41 PM on February 20, 2015

Okay. Missed the above. What night recordings said.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 4:42 PM on February 20, 2015

IANYL but no, not too good to be true. A release, meaning an assurance of no future lawsuit from you, is worth quite a bit to an insurance company. The check is, I suspect, for that notarized letter. Memail nightrecordings about what to do if there is any likelihood at all you may have any latent injuries or medical needs. If none, no worries I can see.
posted by bearwife at 4:55 PM on February 20, 2015

Your medical bills were 7,500, you thought you were getting 2,500 and the check is for $10k? I agree that you should talk to an attorney because it would suck to spend the $10k and then have your health insurance company show up later wanting you to repay them the $7,500 they paid for your medical (a/k/a Subrogation). By talking to the attorney, you would know whether you are obligated to repay your insurance co. from those funds and keep 2500 for pain/suffering, or if the $10k is truly yours to keep in full without obligation to other parties. The Internet can't give you a definitive answer on this other than to check with your attorney who can read the fine print of any settlement agreement as well as the law regarding subrogation in your jurisdiction.
posted by DB Cooper at 5:38 PM on February 20, 2015 [16 favorites]

Your insurance policies may require you to reimburse them out of your settlement for any expenses they have incurred. Bringing your policies and the text of the settlement you signed to a lawyer is a good idea.
posted by grouse at 5:42 PM on February 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

I am a person who has been in a couple of pretty bad accidents and at some point you decide this is a good as it gets and then you get the check.

So, since you've already signed away your option to sue in the future, cash the check.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:49 PM on February 20, 2015

You probably owe that to your health insurance company. They probably won't ask for it.
posted by bensherman at 6:31 PM on February 20, 2015

> I sent them a notarized document promising not to sue them for future medical bills resulting from the accident.

You should not have done that. But you need to talk to a lawyer before cashing the check. It may be too late. It may not be.
posted by megatherium at 7:30 PM on February 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

IANAL. Get in touch with nightrecordings so you at least know where you stand. That's a generous offer.

Stuff like this is why every 3rd billboard is for an accident/injury lawyer. An offer took forever, your initial idea of what you had coming was one thing, what you got was another, and what you might have been due for P&S is yet another. And then there's subrogation, which tied me up for 18 months in a similar (but worse) situation, and which could put you in a hole if you got the check, bought a Jet Ski or a Rolex, and THEN had the other insurance company demand their money back...

Which is why one is NOT necessarily being greedy because they automatically lawyer up in an accident...

In case you can't tell, I hate insurance companies...
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:24 PM on February 20, 2015

Yes, find out if the medical claims are going to be subrogated for you to pay, or if that's already been taken care of.

Usually, you get the settlement for your pain and suffering as a separate payment. So I'm inclined to believe that this payment is just for that. But find out for sure from your insurance company.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:26 AM on February 21, 2015

I think you should talk to a lawyer. There's a real chance that your insurer is entitled to reimbursement from this check, or thinks it is. You want to know if that's true, if if you need to notify your insurer, and if your insurer is likely to come after you. You don't want to spend the money and then wind up owing it to your insurer.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:17 AM on February 21, 2015

Response by poster: Conferred with nightrecordings: I don't owe anything, my health and auto insurance have paid all of my auto bills, and this money is mine all mine. (I followed up on my med insurance bills, and as far as I can tell I don't even have the remains of a copay to put out there.) Thanks all for your input!
posted by sciatrix at 7:18 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

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