Watch Out For Insurance Companies After A Car Accident
As we mentioned in Section One of this blog post series, insurance companies can be quite aggressive during the repair and recovery process. They and the agents that represent them may not have bad intentions or a desire to cheat you out of what you deserve. But at the end of the day, insurance companies are businesses, and your liability poses a threat to their profits.
According to a recent FBI report, the total cost of insurance fraud (excluding health insurance) was estimated to be more than $40 billion per year. Insurance companies aren’t the only ones who suffer; this fraud costs the average U.S. family between $400 and $700 per year in the form of increased premiums. Although motivated in part by business interests, insurance companies may “over scrutinize” cases in an effort to cut back on fraud.
Navigating conversations with an insurance representative
An insurance adjuster will most likely reach out to you within hours of the accident. In addition to gathering the basic details, this adjuster may utilize the following common tactics:
- Push you to admit to any responsibility for the accident.
- Encourage you to make a recorded statement about the accident.
- Ask you to sign a medical release form.
- Discourage you from speaking with a lawyer about your case.
- Suggest that you use a particular body shop or vendor to repair your vehicle.
These requests may seem harmless, but always speak to a lawyer first. You may be disoriented, in shock and in pain; these things can cloud your judgment. The insurance agent may push you to finish paperwork quickly, but you ultimately have the power to comply on your own terms. Remember that even a seemingly minor injury can cost tens of thousands (or more) in medical bills down the road!
Here’s an example of how a seemingly harmless discussion with an insurance adjuster can come back to bite you in court.
Adjuster: It’s been a week since the accident, so I wanted to call and check up on how you were doing.
Accident victim: I am actually feeling much better today. Thank you for asking.
This seems like a typical, polite exchange between two acquaintances. But consider how this simple exchange can be easily misconstrued and used against you in court. Had the accident victim been conversing with a close friend or relative, she might have given a more honest answer like:
Accident victim: Well, the past few days I felt like I had been hit by a truck, but this morning I picked up my Vicodin prescription, and now I feel on top of the world.
Without the appropriate context, telling an insurance adjuster you are “feeling much better” after claiming thousands in medical expenses and pain and suffering will raise red flags. The takeaway here is to avoid sharing every detail with the insurance adjuster. Stick with short, fact-based statements, such as “I’m still waiting to hear back from my doctor about the diagnosis.” You’re under no obligation to tell the insurance agent about your symptoms and experiences during this time; this is a private matter between you and your doctor.
Beware the medical release form
An insurance adjuster might ask you to sign a medical release form to document the extent of your injuries. Although this might seem reasonable, remember that you will have sent copies of all relevant medical records with your personal injury demand letter. If the adjuster requests additional medical records not included in your initial file, discuss with your attorney about whether the request is reasonable.
If so, set your own terms to prevent adjusters from snooping through your personal information. Indicate that you will provide the records if the insurance company pays the fee usually charged by medical facilities to copy records. Review these records personally and thoroughly before sending them, and remove all records that do not pertain to accident injuries.
One of the main reasons why insurance companies might request a more extensive medical release form is to search for pre-existing conditions that could delegitimize your claim. For example, if you developed whiplash as a result of the accident, but you have a medical history of regular chiropractic visits for an unrelated injury, the insurance company might use these records to deny your claim on the basis of a preexisting medical condition.
Full and final statement
Insurance agents may ask you to sign a “full and final statement” regarding the accident, which usually comes with tempting advantages. Some of these advantages include the following:
- Immediate check in the mail to cover all car repairs and hospital bills.
- Often a notably large amount of money.
- Opportunity to quickly end the whole stressful process.
When you’re dealing with a debilitating injury, high medical costs, the insecurity of not having a vehicle, and all of the work required to pursue a lawsuit, it’s easy to see why this offer might be tempting. But here’s why you should avoid finalizing the matter too early, especially if you haven’t yet discussed it with your attorney.
- The amount offered could be thousands less than the amount to which you should be fairly entitled.
- Signing almost certainly prevents you from pursuing legal action in the future.
- The amount will not compensate for pain and suffering, lost wages and other critical factors.
Insurance adjusters are specially trained to persuade injury victims to share personal details and choose not to pursue legal action. Although they might seem kind, trustworthy and reasonable, you cannot afford to risk jeopardizing your case. Do not allow the adjuster to record your phone conversations, and refuse to give formal statements without your attorney present. When friendly conversation doesn’t achieve the desired results, an insurance adjuster may resort to threatening or intimidating measures. For example, if you argue for a higher compensation amount, the agent may insist that this is the highest offer the company will extend and set up an all-or-nothing dilemma.
One of the most unsettling revelations about insurance companies in the last several years is their increasing access into the private lives of the citizens they serve. Still, this trend is not altogether a bad thing. For example, The New York Times recently reported that Progressive, Allstate, and State Farm offer optional programs to insured drivers that deliver discounted rates in exchange for 24/7 tracking of all driving activity. These discounts can save drivers hundreds of dollars for good driving practices, although they raise important questions about privacy rights—particularly when this information is used to refute legitimate claims.
In any case, the focus from this point onward should be on returning to normalcy.
For immediate insight into your Nebraska car accident, call Inkelaar Law to get the justice you deserve at (877) 537-4665, or visit www.JusticeYouDeserve.com.