Is a Verbal Agreement to Settle With an Insurance Company Binding?
A verbal settlement of a personal injury or property damage claim in exchange for money offered given to an insurance company is a binding agreement. You do not have to sign a formal document for the settlement to be enforced against you in Texas.
Can An Adjuster Record Your Phone Conversation With Consent?
In the State of Texas an adjuster does not have to ask for your consent nor permission to record a phone call with you. This may be different in other states. (See: Recording Phone Calls Without Consent. for more information.)
In the case of Windell Gilbert v. Cherish Fitz, 2016 WL 7384167 (Tex.App.—Dallas), The Dallas.) Court of Appeals held that where a plaintiff has agreed to a verbal settlement of his “reasonable medical expenses” incurred on the date of the accident “plus $500.00,” he was bound to that agreement. Gilbert was in a car accident with Fitz. He suffered a fractured rib cage, fractured wrist and neck pain. He went to the hospital and incurred roughly $5,000.00 in medical expenses on the day of the wreck. 8 days after the collision, while dealing with a GEICO claims adjuster who called him and recorded the conversation, Gilbert verbally agreed to settle his claim for the medical bills he incurred on the day of the incident plus $500.00. Subsequently, he required additional medical care to the tune of another $10,000.00. After being poorly advised by a lawyer that the release “would not stand,” he filed a lawsuit.
The attorneys for the defense answered the lawsuit and filed a counter-claim for breach of the verbal settlement agreement. Breach of Contract, even an oral contract is a cause of action that allows the party to seek attorney’s fees for if they prevail. The defense then filed a motion asking the trial Court to grant Summary Judgment on the verbal agreement to settle and award them $10,000.00 in attorneys fees (which are recoverable in a contract dispute, not in personal injury claims.) The Court granted the Motion.
When is a Verbal Agreement Binding in Texas?
A verbal agreement is binding in Texas so long as the three requirements of a contract are met:
- an offer was made,
- an acceptance was made, and
- the was valid consideration.
Consideration in the context of a contract means that each side offered to give the other something of value. Typically in a settlement agreement, the consideration is that one side agrees to give up a right to sue while the other agrees to pay a sum of money. Offer and acceptance have their colloquial meaning.
In the Gilbert case, the court found all elements of a binding verbal contract were present.
Lessons of Gilbert
Gilbert v. Cherish demonstrates three important lessons:
- A verbal agreement is still binding in Texas if you can prove it exists.
- Do not be in a rush to settle your personal injury claim even if you think you are not injured or have healed. Latent injuries may not manifest themselves until days or even weeks after an accident. You have two years to settle a standard auto claim with no government entities involved. Giving yourself a few weeks to see how you feel before considering a settlement is wise.
- An injury victim should never speak to an insurance adjuster without an attorney present. They are not there to take care of you no matter how nice they may act at the time and they don’t have to tell you they are recording you.
If you have been in an accident and need legal representation, call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. for a free consultation.