If you're involved in a personal injury claim following an auto collision, you might have heard your lawyer or the insurance company mention the phrase "maximum medical improvement" (or MMI) regarding your injuries and medical treatment. In the context of an injury-related insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit after a car crash, MMI means the claimant or plaintiff (that’s you) has recovered completely from their injuries, or the claimant or plaintiff's condition has become stable and there is a clear picture of their medical future: What kinds of ongoing medical care will be necessary? What will that care cost? What kinds of physical limitations or disabilities will be permanent? You get the idea.
You should never negotiate a settlement in a personal injury case until you have reached MMI, and at least have a well-defined understanding of the extent of your injuries and the future care you'll require. Under no circumstances should you sign any settlement agreement or sign a release of liability until you've reached this point.
The reason for this is simple. Once you settle, you’re agreeing to release the other driver from any further liability in connection with the underlying car accident. If your injuries turn out to be worse than you first thought, or complications arise, you can’t go back and demand more in the way of compensation. The case is over once you sign a settlement agreement and release, and the other driver is off the hook for any additional or unforeseen damages.
This doesn't mean that you can’t get the insurance claim or lawsuit started before you reach MMI. On the contrary, if you don't hear from them first (and you probably will), you or your lawyer should notify the car insurance company for the other driver (in addition to contacting your own car insurance company), and let them know that you intend to pursue a claim for your injuries.
It’s also important to attend every medical appointment you make, to cooperate with all your health care providers, and to do everything your doctors tell you to do in terms of follow-up care. That’s because as an insurance claimant or a personal injury plaintiff, you have a legal obligation to "mitigate your damages" -- which simply means you must take all reasonable steps to facilitate your recovery, and to avoid anything that might make your condition worse or prolong the need for ongoing treatment.
If you or a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker has been injured in an auto collision and would like to talk to a lawyer, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to set up an appointment right away.