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Jon Lewis
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Auto Accident Question – Release

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Here is another question recently posted on AVVO:

My daughter had a car accident in which she appeared not to be injured. She was given $1,000 by the insurance co and asked to sign a release form, which she did. This happened over the holiday. Upon return to school she is experiencing some problems with her workout routine. does she still have any legal rights?

So, what’s the answer? It really depends on the age of the daughter. In Alabama, if you are under nineteen years of age, you are considered a minor:

Section 26-1-1

Age of majority designated as 19 years.

(a) Any person in this state, at the arrival at the age of 19 years, shall be relieved of his disabilities of minority and thereafter shall have the same legal rights and abilities as persons over 21 years of age. No law of this state shall discriminate for or against any person between and including the ages of 19 and 21 years solely on the basis of age.

(b) This section shall also apply to any person who arrived at the age of 19 and 20 years before July 22, 1975, but shall not abrogate any defense or abridge any remedy available to him or her prior to such date.

(c) All laws or parts of laws which read "under the age of 21 years" hereafter shall read "under the age of 19 years." Wherever the words "under the age of 21 years" appear in any law limiting the legal rights and abilities of persons under such age, such words shall be construed to mean under the age of 19 years.

(d) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (c) of this section, nothing in this section shall be deemed to repeal any provision of Chapter 19 of Title 15 of this code.

(Acts 1975, No. 77.)

Our case law has confirmed this position:

‘It is a well-established general rule at common-law, and recognized in this state, that a minor is not liable on any contract he makes and that he may disaffirm the same.’ Children’s Hosp. of Birmingham, Inc. v. Kelley, 537 So.2d 917, 917 (Ala.Civ.App.1987), aff’d in pertinent part, rev’d on other grounds, Ex parte Odem, 537 So.2d 919 (Ala.1988).”

Consequently, if the daughter is under nineteen years of age, she may disaffirm the release and proceed. If she is nineteen years of age, she will be stuck with the release.

More importantly, this is a lesson to everyone involved in a car wreck. Make sure you are okay before you sign anything or agree to anything. Being involved in a car wreck can be similar to working out or lifting weights. How? you may ask. Well, have you ever lifted weights and been sore the next day or the day after. Why? Your muscles take time to rebuild. Sometimes, after a wreck, you don’t realize you were injured. You might have such adrenaline from the wreck that it masks the injuries. Sometimes, they are just not there until the next day.

The other takeaway from this question is to be careful with insurance adjusters. Why did this insurance company want to settle so quickly? There are several reasons: (1) save money; (2) get it off their desk; (3) protect their own insured. This is why it is always good to consult a lawyer before doing anything. Why wouldn’t you? Most attorneys who practice in this area of law will give you a free consultation, so why not take it.

Next time you or someone you know is involved in a wreck, talk to an attorney or recommend one. It will save you the time of asking such questions on AVVO.