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Short version: I have received a final release form for a vehicle write-off payment from an insurance company and need to sign it and send it back. It's just a pdf form with my name and such filled in, not signed by anyone from the insurance company. If I make changes to the form before signing it, do I have to inform them of this fact and/or point out the changes I've made?

Long version: I was involved in a motorcycle accident and my bike was written off. I have an ongoing personal injury lawsuit that's being handled by a law firm, but I'm working directly with the insurance company of the other driver (the one at fault) to settle the value of the bike and protective gear. They are probably the worst company I have ever had to deal with and it has taken me 9 months, roughly 30 emails, and about 10 phone calls to finally reach an agreement with them on a $4000 dollar bike, and get the release form. Sometimes they simply ignore me for 1-2 months at a time, all phone calls go to voice mail, emails just don't get replied to. I've been passed between 5 different people at the company over the course of this claim. I contacted the federal insurance ombudsman office, who told me they can't do anything because I have no contract with the third party insurance.

I now finally have the release form from them, but the form seems ambiguous about what exactly am I releasing them from. It says "This release is in respect of damages for property damage" at the top, but then makes several mentions of injuries, like "release from action of any nature for injury or damage sustained as a result of the accident". I sent the release form to my lawyer handling the personal injury lawsuit and asked them if it's OK to sign it and whether it will affect the case. His reply was "just email them back and confirm the release is only for the bike". I don't want to sign the contract as-is regardless of any email assurances, I want the thing I'm signing to specifically say what I'm actually agreeing to.

I'm not trying to change the spirit of the contract or sneak anything unexpected in. Normally I'd simply contact the other party and explain that I want the contract verbiage to be changed to make it clear that I'm releasing them of the property damage, but NOT personal injuries. However, I'm loath to get mired in another year of beating my proverbial head against this insurance's wall. I'm hoping I can just remove all mentions of injury, send it back to them signed, get my payout, and finally move on with my life as far as the motorcycle itself is concerned. Am I legally required to inform them of these changes, though?

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You should not interpret my reply as being legal advice regarding what you should do. I would advise you to get an explanation from your attorney what a "confirming email" should ask, and why it would solve your problem.

You may reject their proposal and counteroffer with your own agreement, which says what you want it to say, but that is not necessarily the best approach. The only reason to not mention that you don't like their terms and that you are counter-offering is that maybe they won't notice that you modified the document. If they are unaware that you changed the document, they cannot act in accordance with the modified document, so of course if they really plan to just pay for property damage, they won't pay for personal injury until you bring this technicality to their attention (perhaps because you end up having to sue the customer). Counting on them not noticing that you changed the document is not particularly reasonable. Instead you could point out your unhappiness with the wording of the document and say that you've proposed a rewording.

Of course, you have to take legal responsibility for the rewording that you cook up, so it would be wise to discuss that rewriting with your attorney. When you have that discussion, he might point out a significant flaw in your counteroffer, or he might say "Sure, that works too, but it's gonna stretch the process out another month".

  • I appreciate the answer, although I'm not really sure whether it answers my main question. Can I simply return a modified "counteroffer" without mentioning the fact that I changed the terms? Or would this act invalidate the contract somehow, be seen as fraud, etc? From a legal standpoint. – Egor Mar 9 '18 at 20:36
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    It's not illegal to make a counter-offer. Fraud comes from making an untrue "representation" as to what you offer, and there's nothing untrue in what you (counter)offer. The essence of a contract negotiation is that both sides have equal power, and either party can counter-offer. The law presumes that parties read and understand their agreements, though this is often not the case. – user6726 Mar 9 '18 at 20:45

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