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Liability is the legal term used to describe the responsibility that a person or entity has for injuries or damages caused. When a person or entity is potentially liable to another person, he or she frequently negotiates a settlement agreement that includes compensation to the injured party in return for a release of all claims the injured party may have against the liable party. When the injured party is agreeing to release the liable party from any and all claims he or she may have against the responsible party, then the document that is executed by the parties is called a general release.
Not all releases are considered a general release. In fact, many release forms only release the liable party from claims regarding specific injuries. The most important thing to remember about a general release is that is legally releases the liable party from absolutely all claims the injured party could have against them. For this reason, anyone signing a general release form must be very certain that all possible injuries have been addressed in the negotiations and that the compensation he or she is receiving is sufficient.
As a rule, consideration—usually in the form of monetary compensation—must be given in return for the execution of a release. When a release is signed, part of the incentive for the claimant, or injured party, to agree to signing is that compensation is being paid to the claimant. For instance, in a personal injury accident lawsuit, a claimant may sign a release in return for an agreed upon amount of monetary compensation that the liable party is paying for the injuries suffered by the claimant.
Unlike a specific release, a general release releases the liable party from absolutely all claims—past, present or future—that the claimant may have against the liable party. For this reason, an injured party does not want to agree to signing a general release unless he or she has had a thorough medical examination, as well as consulted with an attorney regarding any possible claims he or she may have against the liable party. Once the release has been signed, the injured party cannot come back down the road and assert a claim against the liable party for latent injuries that did not present symptoms immediately after the incident that gave rise to the injury.
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