I was in an automobile accident and my car was totaled. It was the other driver’s fault. How should I deal with their insurance company?
Short answer: you don’t.
Many experts would advise you against speaking with the other person’s insurance company. While you do need to call your own car insurance company to report the accident, you are under no obligation to talk to the other driver’s insurance carrier.
The best way to deal with the other insurance carrier in most serious car accidents is to consult with a personal injury attorney. He or she will deal with them.
Why should you do that?
The other driver’s insurance company isn’t looking out for you. (See how to tell when you need a lawyer.)
The other insurance company isn’t your friend
Insurance companies always have a financial interest in protecting the interests of their client. And of course, they have an interest in protecting their own financial interests. They represent both interests by doing two things as much as they can:
- Denying the maximum number of car accident claims outright.
- Negotiating the lowest possible settlement possible on other car accident claims.
This boils down to the following: to reduce claims they pay, the insurance company must deny claims made.
Most car accident victims aren’t insurance adjusters or attorneys.
The insurance adjuster knows that. You’re on their home field and it’s their rules. They will use their superior knowledge of the insurance claims game against you.
Why it’s risky to talk to other insurance companies
By talking to the insurance adjuster for the other driver, there is a good chance that you are mucking up your own case. That insurance company will try to use whatever you say against you later in the claim. Insurance adjusters are very well trained to use what you say against you.
Look, there is no legal requirement for you to cooperate or talk to the other insurance company.
But this will rarely or ever stop that insurance company from trying to contact you. If they do, it’s a good idea to not take the call and to talk to an attorney.
When you do speak to anyone about the accident, note the details of your conversation in your post-accident journal (link opens printable PDF form).
They will want to record you
If you talk to the other driver’s insurance company, the adjuster will probably want a recorded statement. The adjuster will chat you up in a very friendly way, and say something like:
‘We can really speed up the claims process if you provide a recorded statement.’
A recorded statement may be very damaging. Sometimes, your statement may actually show that you do not have a valid accident claim. If you don’t have a claim, your injuries and property damage are on you.
The bigger problem is that a recorded statement can be used to undermine a legitimate accident claim. Here’s some sneaky ways they might do that:
- The insurance adjuster will look at the statement you give them with the statement you gave the police. They also will read over the statement you would make if the case involves a lawsuit.
If they spot any inconsistencies in these statements, the claim might get denied. It’s not unusual for a person to tell the accident story slightly differently if he gives it four or five times over three months.
- Adjusters will often ask you tricky questions that can make you answer in a way that hurts your claim. Occasionally, an aggressive adjuster may push you to agree to facts that you don’t know are accurate. You might get annoyed, and say, ‘I guess so,’ to get the guy to leave you alone. That could hurt your case big time.
- If your car accident case goes to trial, the defense can use your recorded statement to the insurance company to cross examine you. That could have been months ago, and heck if you can remember what you said. Any contradiction you make with your previous statement can be very damaging. A good defense attorney will highlight the discrepancy for a jury and make hay out of it.
Let’s be fair: Not every insurance company will play games with you on the phone. But if they do try to undermine your case, it can really screw things up.
See the steps to an insurance claim settlement to get an idea of the overall process.
You don’t know your whole medical situation
If you had a serious car accident and had major injuries, your full medical diagnosis may not be complete. You could give an inaccurate portrayal of your injuries.
That’s why insurance adjusters are notorious for trying to get on the phone with car accident victims ASAP. They want to get a good idea of what the case likely is worth. This is known as a ‘reserve value.’
Once the adjuster has the reserve value in mind, good luck getting a settlement above that amount. If you talk to them without an attorney, you could give out inaccurate information that sets an artificially low reserve amount.
That boosts the odds that a lawsuit will have to be filed. Which means you could have to wait months to get paid. If you win. If you lose, you get nothing.
There are exceptions where you may talk
We’re talking car accidents and insurance companies, so there are exceptions.
If you have a minor car accident, the other driver is 100% at fault and it is clear, you might talk to the other adjuster to get the matter settled fast. You might consider doing so if the police report states the other driver caused the wreck. If the other driver was cited by the police – even better.
But if your accident and injuries involve any of the following, get a personal injury attorney involved:
- Broken bones, stays in hospitals, long term health consequences
- Medical treatments more than $2000
- Missing more than a day or two of work/school or normal activities
- Any dispute about who was at fault
- Several people were injured
- Insurance companies are playing rough
You do need to give a statement to your own car insurance company
As we noted earlier, you do have a contractual obligation to cooperate with your car insurance company.
Your insurance policy may contain language that requires you to give a recorded statement if the adjuster requests it. If they do ask, you can ask the adjuster to tell you the exact language in the contract that requires it.
Remember that your own insurance company can potentially take a position against you. So, you should think very carefully about every fact you give in a recorded statement to your insurance carrier.
But many experts would advise you to not give a recorded statement to any insurance company at all without the advice of a personal injury lawyer.
Get in touch with a personal injury attorney today if you aren’t sure about dealing with either insurance company. Our handy law firms directory can help.