You’ve got enough to worry about. Then you find yourself in a car crash. That alone is frustrating. But wait, there’s more.
You can count on two things coming your way after a crash: 1) a forthcoming insurance claim and 2) a call from the other driver’s insurance company.
The first part isn’t necessarily bad. At the end of the day, if the other driver is at fault, his or her insurance is the one that will end up footing the bill for the damages. How to handle the phone call from the other driver’s insurance company, however, is another matter and it can sometimes lead to unforeseen mistakes that could cost you later on.
After years of handling injury cases, I usually have a good sense of how my client’s telephone conversations with the insurance adjustor will play out. Here’s a typical scenario: The adjustor is nice, offering well wishes, asking if you’re feeling okay. He or she often returns calls promptly and assures you that the insurance company wants to “make it right” – sometimes even offering to take care of your medical bills.
Unfortunately, once it becomes clear you’re actually injured and need substantial medical care, the adjustor suddenly stops with the pleasantries; it’s not uncommon for the adjustor to stop returning your calls, which can be the first sign that something is amiss. So how should you handle conversations with those adjustors? Here are some familiar-sounding tips.
You have the right to remain silent
You have an obligation to talk to your own auto insurance company after a car crash. You do not have to talk to the other insurance company. Even the friendliest of adjustors has a job to do, and that’s to protect the other driver and the insurance company. An adjustor’s goal is to gather as much information as possible. Instead of getting into a long conversation, consider this: ask for the adjustor’s name and contact information, get the claim number, and give your basic information (name, address, and your auto insurance information). That leads to the next step.
You have the right to an attorney
Before any decisions are made, before a recorded statement is given, and certainly before you sign anything, speak with an experienced injury attorney. If you feel uncomfortable with the adjustor, or feel pressured, tell the adjustor you’d like to speak with an attorney before making a decision. Don’t be surprised if the adjustor changes his/her attitude at this point. That’s okay. You’re not looking to make friends in these situations; you’re looking to protect yourself from being taken advantage of. The insurance company has teams of adjustors and corporate lawyers on its side – you deserve to have an attorney on your side, too.
Anything you say can – and will – be used against you
Adjustors aren’t “bad people,” but they are people with a job to do. They receive extensive training, specifically from corporate insurance lawyers, on ways to get information. One of the easiest ways to get information is to be nice. Once an adjustor gets you on the phone, it’s all fair game – and if it’s not being recorded, the adjustor is certainly keeping detailed notes.
It’s common for the first conversation to be about the crash. A simple question like, “how did it happen?” is meant to get you talking. Bear in mind that the adjustor is looking for anything that he/she can use against you later. For example, we had a client mention she had her kids in the car when the accident occurred. Later in the case, the insurance company’s lawyer argued how the kids distracted our client, even though she was stopped at a red light when she was rear-ended by another driver who was on a cell phone.
Later conversations turn to how you’re feeling, which is meant to put you at ease so you’ll say you’re doing “fine” (because the adjustors know people often have a tendency to downplay their own pain). Later on, the insurance company and its lawyers will use that to show that you weren’t injured. Or if you say physical therapy is making you feel “better,” the insurance company spins it to mean you’re feeling “100% better,” as opposed to “better than before, but still not great.”
No, this tip isn’t from the Miranda warning, but it’s equally important. Not all insurance companies have bad intentions. As I said, adjustors are doing a job. You may choose to say nothing, but that doesn’t mean you have to be rude. Be courteous. Be cordial. After you give your basic information, politely end the phone conversation. You may not need an attorney for your case, but at the very least, you should speak with one before making any decisions.