It happens in almost every accident case. A short time after you are involved in a car accident, for example, you will probably be contacted by an insurance adjuster representing the person who caused it. Adjusters are trained to evaluate accident cases and to pay you as little as possible. Adjusters often call you and try to convince you that he or she is looking out for your best interests. They often tell you that they simply need to document the accident before they can settle your case. Adjusters use a number of tricks to get as much information as they can from you. This may seem harmless enough, but the information you give them often has a way of being used against you later in the case.
Recognizing and Avoiding Tricks
In my experience, accident victims who provide too much information by providing a recorded statement or talking to the adjuster about their injuries or filling out the insurance companies’ forms are making a huge mistake that can really damage their case. This is not meant to say that cooperation isn’t important, rather it is a warning to be aware of some of the “tricks” that are often used to get more information than is necessary or to provide information without consulting with an attorney who knows how to deal with adjusters.
Trick #1: Recorded Statements
One of the most common tricks some adjusters use is to tell you that you must give them a recorded statement before they can settle your case. There are a number of reasons why providing a recorded statement to the insurance adjuster is a huge mistake. To start with, you are not legally obligated to provide a recorded statement (if you are dealing with your own insurance company you may need to provide a statement, but always consult with an attorney first). If an insurance representative tries to convince you that you are legally obligated to provide a statement he or she is just plain lying! Adjusters are trained to ask you questions that they can use against you later on. For example, An adjuster may try to put words in your mouth to make it seem as if you caused or contributed to the accident. This can then be used by skilled attorneys to argue that you admitted full or partial responsibility for the accident. This could completely destroy your case because you typically cannot recover damages if you are the cause of the accident.
Trick #2: Discussing Injuries
Adjusters will also want to talk to you about your injuries. Some insurance companies will even try to schedule an “in-person” interview to take a statement. There is no reason for you to submit to an “in-person” interview or to discuss your injuries in detail with the adjuster. I don’t have a problem with being open and honest about being hurt in the accident. However, because these conversations often take place before a medical exam has taken place or the full extent of the injuries are known, it unwise to provide detailed information about injuries during initial discussions with insurance adjusters.
Adjusters are not doctors and have no medical training. At the time they call you, you may not feel very bad at that moment. If you tell the adjuster you feel ok or don’t feel injured that statement goes in their notes or in the recorded statement. This provides future ammunition to argue later on that you were either uninjured or that your injuries are minimal. It is not uncommon for certain types of injuries to manifest themselves several days after a traumatic event such as a car accident. I have never seen any benefit come from accident victims discussing their injuries with adjusters. If you do this, you are just playing into the insurance companies’ hands. My policy is to let the insurance company know they will be provided with all of the information necessary for them to evaluate the claim after all treatment has been completed.
Trick #3: Paperwork
You should also never fill out or sign any forms the adjuster sends you without consulting an attorney first. In most instances, the forms adjusters send you are medical authorizations designed to allow the insurance company the ability to request your personal, private health care records. Some authorizations may even allow the insurance company to obtain your employment and educational records, even though those things have nothing to do with the accident. Remember, adjusters represent insurance companies who want to pay you as little as they can get away with for your accident related injuries. Some adjusters are very skilled at looking for information and obtaining information to use against you or to frighten or discourage you from filing a lawsuit.
MY SUGGESTIONS TO AVOID THESE HUGE MISTAKES:
1. Never provide a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance adjuster following an accident. When the adjuster calls you, politely take down the adjuster’s name, phone number and the claim number and tell them to either call your attorney or that you will have your attorney call him or her. If you have not hired an attorney when the adjuster calls, tell the adjuster you are going to meet with an attorney before providing any further information.
2. Never sign a release or other form sent to you by an insurance company following an accident without having an experienced personal injury attorney review it first.
3. Do not, under any circumstances ever discuss your injuries with the adjuster and never agree to an in-person meeting with an adjuster. Let your attorney handle providing what information to give to the adjuster. An experienced personal injury attorney will know what information is and is not necessary for your case to be evaluated.