A settlement is final. No insurance company would settle a case without a release with language indicating that the settlement is the full final resolution of the matter terminating all future claims even for potential additional symptoms or result unknown at that time. The need for a release is to insure certainty and finality in the law. The case is over. That is all.
(No "But ... ", please.)
I truly wish you the best.
This answer is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided in an office consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction, with experience in the area of law in which your concern lies.
Once a settlement has been reached and a minor's settlement has been approved by the court and a general release has been signed, you are no longer responsible for any further damages. If the issue is raised by the mother of your niece, you should contact your insurance company and ask them to contact the girl's mother and explain the situation.
Legal Disclaimer :
Mr. Lundeen is licensed to practice law in Florida and Vermont. The response herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that, if known, could significantly change the reply and make it unsuitable. Mr. Lundeen strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in your state in order to ensure proper advice is received.
I agree with the other attorney's responding to your question. Once the case is closed, it is closed for good. Although I do not practice law in your state, most jurisdictions require court approval for settlements involving minor children. Once the petition is filed asking for court approval, a settlement Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is generally appointed to determine the reasonableness of the settlement. The GAL (usually experienced in personal injury matters) investigates the extent of injuries, the permanence of injuries, the potential for future physical problems such as claimed, the settlement amount offered, and the reasonableness of the settlement given all relevant factors. The GAL then makes a recommendation to the court whether to accept or reject the settlement. Once the Court accepts the proposed settlement as reasonable and in the best interests of the minor child, the court approves the settlement with a court order and documents are signed by the minor's parents releasing all defendants (you) from further liability. Once the case is closed, it is closed and final. Whether your niece had a risk of further physical complications should have been considered and factored into the settlement when it was approved. Because determining the potential for further injury complications is not an exact science, sometimes problems arise that were not expected. While this is unfortunate for your niece, you are not liable for additional damages.
First, you should immediately report this to the insurance company who insured your car at the time of your accident. Normally, an injured party has 5 years from the date of the accident to initiate a lawsuit against you--not just "make a claim." However, a minor's time to file will be extended, how much depends upon their age and other issues. But, if the minor did actually settle his or her claim already, then your insurance company would have gotten a release and they will likely be unable to assert a claim now, even if it is for an injury that they didn't realize they had. The most important thing for you to do is turn this over to your insurance company. They are required to provide a defense.
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