After a personal injury lawsuit is filed, each side begins preparing to make their case before a judge and to have the court decide the issues that cannot be agreed upon. At any time during this process, the parties may be able to resolve their differences.
Settlement means there has been an agreement between the parties as to all issues. A legal agreement is a contract. Once a settlement agreement is signed, contract law determines if it is valid. If a contract is valid it will be legally enforceable subject to its terms.
At BDIW Law, we have considerable experience negotiating personal injury settlement agreements on behalf of injured clients throughout Oklahoma. We understand what is necessary to form a valid contract and how to rescind an invalid settlement agreement.
What It Means to ‘Settle’ a Personal Injury Lawsuit
When parties to a personal injury claim agree on the issues of liability and damages, it means they have settled their differences. Reaching a settlement prior to obtaining a court decision has the same legal effect as a court order once a judge has reviewed and approved it.
After it is signed by all parties, a settlement agreement is presumed to be a binding contract fairly representing the interests of everyone involved. However, there must be a genuine agreement between the parties for a contract to be enforceable. When it can be shown a legal agreement did not exist, a settlement contract may be rescinded.
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How a Settlement Agreement Can Be Challenged
Persons who sign settlement agreements must have the legal capacity to do so. Minors lack the capacity to enter into contracts in most instances, as do some people with mental impairments. Consent to accept the terms of the contract must be freely given based on an accurate understanding of what’s being agreed to.
The Oklahoma laws governing contracts say that consent to the terms of a contract will not be considered freely given if obtained under any of the following circumstances:
- Undue Influence
Duress is coercion by confinement. Confining a person, their property, or a family member of the person in order to get their cooperation is duress when it is unjust, harassing, or oppressive.
To menace is to threaten. Menace can be the threat of duress, or it can be the threat of unlawful or violent injury to a person or their property. Menace can also be a threat to harm the character of a person.
Fraud can be actual or constructive. Actual fraud is the misrepresentation of information with the intent to deceive. Constructive fraud occurs when one party gains an advantage by misleading the other, even if not done intentionally.
Undue influence is someone using a position of confidence or authority to take unfair advantage of someone else. Undue influence can occur in caregiving situations where one person is dependent on another and can be easily influenced to act a certain way.
A mistake made by any party to a contract means there was not a true meeting of the minds because one or more parties had a different understanding of what was being agreed to.
When the mistake is one of fact, the mistaken party may rescind the contract. Mistakes of law only void a contract when all parties mistake the law, or one party mistakes the law, and the others fail to correct the mistake.
A valid settlement agreement is predicated on having accurate information and freedom of choice. If you have issues with a settlement agreement, an experienced personal injury attorney at BDIW Law will be happy to review your situation and the terms of your settlement to see if it can be reopened.
What Oklahoma Courts Have Said About Reopening Settlement Agreements
When Oklahoma courts have considered whether to enforce a settlement agreement, they have focused on whether or not a valid agreement existed. When a court determines a legal agreement was reached, a settlement agreement will not be set aside.
Fender vs. Wal-Mart
In Fender vs. Wal-Mart, the US District Court, N.D. Oklahoma was asked by the plaintiff to enforce a settlement agreement reached in a personal injury lawsuit. At issue was the amount to be paid to the plaintiff. The attorney for the defendant had offered the plaintiff $150,000, and the plaintiff had accepted the offer.
The defendant had only authorized its attorney to offer $125,000, and the defendant was unwilling to pay the higher amount. The court decided that the settlement agreement was not enforceable because it did not represent an agreement between the parties since the defendant never intended to pay the higher amount.
Coulter vs. Carewell
A settlement was reached in a wrongful death case involving a Tulsa nursing home. Both parties in Coulter vs. Carewell had signed a mediation agreement intending to be bound by the financial terms.
A settlement contract was forwarded to the plaintiff requesting a release of all liability in exchange for the agreed compensation. The plaintiff refused to sign the release arguing it was not part of the agreement and then sought to enforce the financial terms.
The Court of Civil Appeals of the State of Oklahoma found that while the mediation agreement signed by the parties had not mentioned a release of liability, there was evidence indicating it was understood and agreed a release would be a part of the settlement agreement.
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Why You Need an Oklahoma Attorney to Reopen a Lawsuit After Settlement
Finding out you could have gotten more money than you settled your lawsuit for is not usually a valid reason for rescinding a settlement agreement once the documents have been signed and a court has approved the terms.
However, if you were pressured into accepting settlement terms or agreeing to a settlement without having information that was important to your decision, you may have grounds to reopen the settlement. Schedule a free consultation with BDIW Law – an Oklahoma personal injury law firm that tackles hard issues and gets big results for clients.
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