THE “POSTER CHILD” CASE FOR HIRING AN ATTORNEY WHEN INJURED IN AN AUTO OR BIKE ACCIDENT- Bailey v. Vaughn, 2017-Ohio-7725 September 21, 2017

by Kenneth Knabe, Greater Cleveland’s car and bike accident injury Attorney. 216 228 7200

In a very recent decision, the Court of Appeals of Cuyahoga County upheld a settlement by a pro se (unrepresented) auto accident injury victim who—prior to seeking the advice of an attorney—accepted $1,500 from the at fault driver’s insurance company, when he had $7,505 in medical expenses! The injured person never cashed the $1500 check; instead, he finally hired a lawyer who then tried to rescind the unfair oral agreement. The Court refused to rescind the oral agreement and upheld the $1500 settlement stating that an oral binding contract took place under the following recorded verbal exchange between the at fault insurance adjuster and the unrepresented injured person:

“Q. The purpose of this recorded conversation is to make record of the bodily injury settlement of a claim by Mr. Michon Bailey Sr. for bodily injury resulting from an automobile accident on November 6th, 2014 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio involving an automobile driven by Alissa Vaughn uh [sic] and also insured under the name of Alissa Vaughn. Is this correct[?] A. Yes[.]

  1. Mr. Bailey we have agreed to settle your bodily injury claim for $1,500.00 settling this bodily injury claim means Geico will pay to you on behalf of Alissa Vaughn $1,500.00 and with your acceptance you will give up any and all rights to file a lawsuit or make any further claim for bodily injury again- [sic] against Alissa Vaughn for the accident on November 6th, 2014. Do you agree to accept $1,500.00 in full and final settlement of your bodily injury claim against Alissa Vaughn for the accident on November 6th, 2014 and release them from an — [sic] any further liability[?] A. Yes[.]
  2. You are agreeing to indemnify and hold harmless Alissa Vaughn and Geico General Insurance Company from any and all claims relating to your injury illness or disease related to the accident on November 6th, 2014 is this correct[?] A. Yes[.]
  3. Is it your desire to settle this claim as discussed and release Alis — [sic] Alissa Vaughn[?] A. Yeah[.]
  4. Have you understood all of these questions[?] A. Yes[.] {¶5}”

The Court then stated: “The transcript proves that the settlement contained the elements of an enforceable contract: the insurer’s offer to settle any claims for personal injury arising from the automobile accident involving Bailey and Vaughn, Bailey’s acceptance of the offer, Bailey’s agreement to accept $1,500 as consideration for agreeing to settle his claim, and a manifestation of a mutual assent to the terms.1”

Let’s look at the third question. Although he answered “yes”, I very much doubt this accident victim really knew what “indemnify and hold harmless” meant? It means that whoever paid the $7,505 in medical bills could have a full right to recover it all back out of the settlement check of $1,500…likely resulting in this person ending up with absolutely no monetary recovery from the accident!

Statutes should exist barring insurance companies from taking advantage of accident victims, and allowing accident victims to rescind a patently unfair offer accepted without an attorney’s counsel. However, such Statutes do NOT currently exist so those injured in car or bike accidents need to protect themselves and not agree to settlements without counsel.

Bottom line:

  • After an auto or bike accident occurs, it isn’t always immediately apparent if you are injured, because symptoms can be delayed. If involved in a very minor bike accident or “fender bender” at a very slow rate of speed, you may be fine and settling it yourself may make sense, but the wisest move is to NOT rush into any type of settlement conversation without first waiting and then getting legal advice.
  • Additionally, do NOT talk to, or trust any insurance company adjuster after a serious accident—if you are seriously injured and you “play lawyer” and represent yourself, you just may negotiate a settlement for yourself that is completely unfair, puts you in a hole and could ruin your life!
  • Hire an experienced, reputable auto or bike accident Injury lawyer who will take over your claim and handle it professionally and correctly on a contingency fee basis. Do not talk to insurance adjusters for the at-fault party about your injury claim and do not negotiate with one unless and until you contact an experienced Attorney.
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