“Don't sign any papers or give a recorded statement without the help of an experienced injury lawyer.”
After an accident you will eventually hear from an insurance adjuster about your property damage and/or your bodily injury claim. You may hear from your adjuster for the insurance company that insures you as well as the adjuster for the insurance company that insures the other vehicle involved in the accident. It is important to know which party the insurance adjuster actually represents because his or her loyalties are to their particular insurance company and individual they insure.
You have a duty under your insurance policy to cooperate with your insurance company. So your adjuster is entitled to more information from you. You must cooperate in the investigation, settlement or defense of the case with your company, sign authorizations if requested, submit to an examination under oath and submit a proof of loss to name a few. Before signing any documents it is always best to check with an attorney to be sure you are not signing away any of your rights. Typically your insurance adjuster will request a recorded statement. You must give your company this statement or the company can void your coverage. Your insurance adjuster will then decide if you are at fault or if the other person is at fault. If you are at fault your insurance company will attempt to take care of the damages and any bodily injuries of the other party up to the policy limits you purchased. However, your insurance company has the absolute right to decide how much, if any, they will pay to settle any claim against you. If you are not at fault for the accident, the other party’s insurance adjuster will request a recorded statement. You are not required to give a recorded statement, and as attorneys, we strongly urge our clients not to give this statement because anything you say can later be used against you. If you must give your version of what happened in the accident in order to get the adjuster to pay your property damage, tell him/her you will be happy to tell what happened but you are NOT allowed to record this. This way if the adjuster later wants to use something you said, he has to testify personally to what you said and not just play a recording.
The other party’s adjuster will also ask you to sign a medical authorization in order to get your medical records. As attorneys, we strongly recommend you obtain your own records and bills and forward them to the adjuster. Sometimes the medical authorizations the adjuster requests you to sign are too broad and entitle them to more information than you may want them to have. It is also good to review your medical records from the doctor before submitting them to the adjuster so if there are any mistakes in your records you can address them with the doctor first.
The other party’s insurance adjuster may also attempt to settle your bodily injury case with you before you are released from treatment. There are insurance companies that will be at your house within 24 hours of a claim being reported trying to get you to settle your case. They usually offer some nominal amount for pain and suffering, like $500.00 and will pay a certain amount of medical bills, like $5,000.00, for the next year. Sometimes this may be a good deal if you weren’t really hurt. The problem is you do not always know the full extent of your injuries within 24 hours after the accident. It is usually best to wait until you have completed treatment and your injury has resolved before you settle your case. Another problem is the adjuster is most likely not an attorney and thus he/she cannot fully advise you of the legal ramifications of what you are signing. Again when an adjuster is asking you to sign a release of any sort, it is always best to seek the advice of an attorney before signing the release.
The adjuster can be pushy to get the case closed. Take your time be sure you are doing what is in your best interest, not the insurance company’s best interest. If you have any questions at all or feel it is just not right, consult an attorney and be sure there is nothing else that can be done. Also, it is important to know that very rarely do the insurance companies withdraw a settlement offer. So If they pressure you to hurry, remember that the offer will probably be good well into the future.
Beware of recorded statements. You do not have to give the other driver's insurance company a recorded statement and you should not do so! If anyone asks you for a recorded statement, you need to say "not until I have consulted an attorney first." Do not give a recorded statement or sign any papers without consulting with an attorney experienced in handling accident cases. It is usually best if an attorney talks to the other insurance company for you. However, should someone come to your house or call you, it is better for a friend or a relative to speak with the claims adjuster, rather than you. If you speak to a claims adjuster, you will rarely improve your claim. It is always best to have an attorney talk to the adjuster to be certain that the facts about the accident are correct. Many times a claims adjustor will want to know immediately all about your injuries. Do not be lulled into what you believe is a friendly unimportant chat. The claims adjuster has a job to do and that job is to save the insurance company money. So, if a claims adjuster should casually ask “How are you today?” and you politely say "Fine," then the adjuster will write down in his or her journal that you are not hurt since that is what you said on the phone that day. The insurance adjuster who calls you will try to get you to admit that the accident was partially your fault! If they can get you to admit that, then the insurance company can avoid paying you the full value of your claim. Unfortunately this type of mistake can often be very costly to an injury victim.