You just got into a car accident. Your next few decisions could make a huge difference in whether your claim is paid in full, partially, or not at all.
Know these tips to help avoid making a terrible mistake that loses your claim.
- Even if you think the accident was your fault, do not say anything that could show you were at fault.
- Call the police, get them to come, and get a police report. Make sure the police get it right.
- Get a lawyer as soon as possible.
- Tell your lawyer everything, good and bad.
- Do not talk to anyone else except your attorney about the details of the accident.
- Even if you don’t feel hurt, go to the doctor as soon as possible after the accident.
- Inform your insurance company about the accident, giving only the minimal details.
- Do not give any insurance company a statement.
- Be completely honest with your doctors about any pain or injury.
- Do not miss any doctor’s appointments.
You do not know if the person you were in an accident with was texting while driving. Even though you may feel sorry or feel that you are to blame, you cannot know all of the facts that led to the accident without finding out more. Also, you have a constitutional right to remain silent in any criminal proceedings (i.e. getting a ticket).
Insurance companies love it when people do not get police reports, because it gives them a great opportunity to deny claims, even if their own insured is at fault. Almost every day I get calls from people who did not get a police report and trusted the other driver to be honest regarding what happened, only to find out the other driver told their insurance company something different, and now you cannot get your damages covered by insurance.
I have also had many people tell me that what actually happened was completely different than what the police wrote down in their report, only to find out that their claim was denied. Often this happens if a person leaves the scene before the police report is done, and then the police officer has to rely solely on the other driver. Before leaving the scene, make sure the police officers get it right in their report.
It is a hard battle to disprove an incorrect police report, and not many attorneys will take this type of case unless you have large amounts of medical bills to justify the risk.
One of the biggest mistakes many people make is trying to resolve the insurance claims by themselves without a lawyer. Having a lawyer creates a barrier between you and the insurance company. Once you have a lawyer, the insurance company can no longer contact you directly (if they do attempt to contact you, refer them to your lawyer). This is a good thing, as every insurance company has one goal: to collect premiums while avoiding paying claims in any way possible.
If your lawyer knows the bad facts along with the good ones, he or she will be better able to prepare your case and know what is coming. If you forget to mention any negative fact at all (i.e. you were texting while driving), then your lawyer will have no idea of that fact, and when the insurance company finds out about it (and they always do), your lawyer will have no way to protect you or help you in your situation and you will probably lose your case.
Make sure to tell your lawyer everything, good and bad. Attorney-client privilege protects conversations you have with your attorney regarding the legal advice you are seeking in most circumstances. This means that if you tell your lawyer that you were texting, the insurance company cannot use your discussion with your lawyer as evidence at trial (they could still pull the phone records, but they cannot use your statements to your lawyer).
Anything you say to almost anyone but your attorney regarding the accident can come into court, and insurance companies love to find things you said in passing to someone that destroy your case. Insurance companies often hire private investigators to follow people who are making claims, and to interview others about accidents. For this reason, do not talk about the details of the accident to anyone.
Attorney-client privilege protects conversations you have with your attorney regarding the legal advice you are seeking in most circumstances.
There is one exception: make sure the police get the story about the accident right. What goes in a police report will often be the sole determination of liability in a claim. This is not always the case, but it is frequently true enough that it is imperative that the police report reflect what happened in the case.
Insurance companies love delays in treatment. They try to use any delay as a method to say a few possible things: (1) that you didn’t immediately go to the doctor, so you must not have been injured in the accident or that any injury from the accident must only be mild because you obviously did not feel bad enough to go to the doctor immediately; (2) that the injury must have come from something else that occurred in your life; or (3) you failed to mitigate your damages, and so their insured is not liable for the full extent of your damages.
In order to show the insurance company that your claim is valid, you need to create a paper trail showing exactly what injuries were directly caused from the accident.
Your insurance coverage can potentially be denied if you do not timely inform your own insurance carrier of the accident. It is extremely important, therefore, to inform the insurance company of the accident.
Also, the more details you give your insurance company, the less likely they will side with you. Give them the police report number, the date of the accident, the names of parties involved, and then tell them that you are not willing to give a statement at this time.
I recently listened to a recording by an insurance company of a statement given by one of my clients. In the interview, although the insurance adjuster was extremely nice and kind, every single question the insurance adjuster asked was meant to find a way to avoid paying the claim. It is easy to fall into a trap set by an insurance company, especially when the adjusters are so nice and kind. The moment something is said in a way that causes the slightest doubt of the claim, the claim is then denied.
Remember, insurance companies make money by denying claims. They answer to their shareholders, and if their profits are low, the shareholders are not happy. Insurance companies have every incentive to find frivolous reasons to deny valid claims.
Getting you to give a statement is a tool insurance companies use to find a way to deny or pay less on your claim.
After an accident, if you do not tell your doctor about every pain you are feeling, it will not get documented. If some injury develops later or becomes worse over time, if there is not a paper trail showing that you had complained of the symptoms early in your treatment, then an insurance company is more likely to deny the claim and say the “new injury” was caused by something other than the accident.
For this reason, tell the doctor every pain you are feeling and make sure it all gets documented. The more thorough and honest you are with your doctor about your injury, the better off you will be when it comes time to settle your case with the insurance company.
Insurance companies love gaps in treatment. They try to use any gap as a method to say a few possible things: (1) that you missed doctor’s appointments, so you must have recuperated fully because you did not need to see the doctor on that day; (2) that your pain after any gap in treatment must have come from something else that occurred in your life between when you obviously recuperated (because you didn’t need to go to the doctor), and your next visit to the doctor; or (3) you failed to mitigate your damages or take care of your injury, and so their insured is not liable for the full extent of your damages.