CAUTION! READ BEFORE SIGNING: Releasing Property Damage Claims

After an accident, a party will often accept a given sum of money for repairs in exchange for which he or she releases the right to sue for any and all present and future property damages arising out of that accident. If the indication to release liability for only property damage is not made clear, however, a party may also unknowingly sign away his or her right to sue for bodily injuries that may present themselves several weeks or months after an accident.

Common language in a Release of Property Damage includes a statement discharging a party from "any and all claims, actions, causes of action, demands, rights, damages, costs, loss of service, expenses and compensation whatsoever, which the undersigned now has/have or which may hereafter accrue on account of or in any way growing out of any and all known and unknown, property damage and the consequences thereof resulting or to result from the accident, or event which occurred on or about [date of incident]."

Alone, however, this language leaves open the interpretation that the party is also signing away all liability for personal injury resulting from said incident.

There is an even greater risk of misinterpretation if the document includes further ambiguous language, such as indemnification from "any and all further liability, loss, damage, claims of subrogation and expense, arising because of any damages, and, if necessary, and, ... to satisfy on their behalf any judgment against them arising in any way out of aforesaid accident." Such language alone does not make it clear that the release is for property damage only.

A document purporting to release a party from property damage only should include a provision making such intention clear. For instance, the party can require acknowledgement that "this is a complete release of property damage only and it is understood and agreed that it does not constitute a release for any bodily injury resultant from this accident."

Without a clear indication that the release is for property damage only and not for bodily injury, titling a document "Release in Full of All Property Damage Claims" is not enough.