The usual answer to this question is no, you shouldn’t – at least if you are filing a third-party claim. Most insurance companies are profit-seeking entities, and there are only two ways to maximize profits: by maximizing revenues or by cutting expenditures. Since insurance claims represent expenditures, every dime paid out in claims is one dime less in profit or one dime more in losses.
Your Insurance Adjuster: A Good Neighbor?
Make no mistake about it: The insurance company is your adversary, not your neighbor. The insurance company adjuster is a professional negotiator whose sole goal is to minimize the value of your claim – down to zero, if possible. Because he negotiates claims every day, he has every advantage over the average claimant, especially those who are in pain or stressed out. That is where Berkowitz Hanna comes in if you want us to. Let us handle the insurance adjuster.
The Typical Case: Third-Party Claim
In a third-party claim, it is someone else who is at fault and you must file a claim against his insurance company. This might happen, for example, if you are injured when another driver plows into your car. You are not bound by the terms of the insurance policy contract entered into between the insurance company and the at-fault party, since you did not sign it. That is why you are under no obligation to give a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance company.
Special Case: First-Party Claim
A first-party claim is different from a third-party claim because you are claiming damages from your own insurance company. This might happen if, for example, the accident was your fault or if the at-fault driver was uninsured or underinsured (Connecticut law requires you to carry at least $25,000 per person/ $50,000 per accident in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage).
There will probably be a Cooperation Clause in your policy requiring you to give the insurance company the information they need to investigate your claim. This information could include:
- a recorded statement;
- authorization to examine your medical records; and
- any other information that your insurance company might reasonably require of you.
Your claim could be denied if you refuse to provide this information. This article, however, deals primarily with how to handle a request for a recorded statement in a third-party claim.
How to Handle the First Call from the Insurance Company
If you are hurt in an accident with an insured person and the accident may have been their fault, you can expect that person’s insurance company to contact you almost as soon as they find out about the accident – which maybe before you even file a claim. The following are some tips on how to handle this call:
- Keep a notepad handy and take notes during the call or record the call.
- Naturally, refuse to give a recorded statement. Do not give any details, at all, about the accident or your injuries.
- Get the full name of the agent who is interviewing you.
- Stay calm and polite. A little sugar can go a long way.
- “Name, rank, and serial number.” Well, not exactly. It’s more like “name, address, telephone number, occupation, and employer.” Give the insurance company no further personal information about yourself.
- DO NOT let them pressure you into settling, even if you are under financial pressure. Odds are your claim is worth a lot more than whatever they are offering you to settle it now.
- If you have already retained a lawyer, tell them to direct all further inquiries to your lawyer. Otherwise, set some sort of clear and stringent limitation on your future communications with them.
Why You Shouldn’t Give a Recorded Statement: A Few Samples from an Insurance Adjuster’s Bag of Tricks
An insurance adjuster will carry a large bag of tricks into any conversation with you. Below is but a small sampling of what to prepare for:
- Insurance companies love to interview you while you are disoriented, in shock, confused, upset, in severe pain, fatigued, or taking medications after an accident. Can you guess why? Never answer questions or make any comments while you are in such a state.
- Most people speak imprecisely in informal situations. You might tell your friend you “never get out of the house” due to your injuries, for example, even though you leave once a week for a doctor’s appointment. If you speak with an insurance company like this, they will use it against you by claiming that you contradict yourself and, therefore, cannot be trusted.
- The insurance adjuster might pressure you to pinpoint the exact time of the accident down to the last minute. If you get exasperated and say something like “OK, OK, it happened at 2:42,” for example, the insurance company can then say the accident was your fault because you were checking the time instead of watching the road.
- “Good morning. How are you today?” “I’m fine, thank you.” “You’re fine? But aren’t you claiming to be seriously injured? How could you possibly be fine?” See how tricky this can get?
- The insurance adjuster might set an “I guess so” trap for you. “I guess so” is not a real answer, but it is the type of answer you might give if you are tired and your interviewer is wearing you down. Never forget that “I guess so” will be treated as the equivalent of “yes,” for better or for worse.
- The adjuster might try to put words into your mouth. They may, for example, suggest how you are expected to feel about your own memories: “I guess it all happened so fast it must be a blur to you.” Responding “I guess so” to that one could greatly damage your claim. Ultimately, this is a form of gaslighting that you definitely need to avoid.
The irony in all this is that if you were questioned this way in court, your lawyer would object and the objection would almost certainly be sustained.
Your Attorney Can Help You Prepare a Written Statement
At some point before settlement or verdict, you are likely to need to provide your version of events. Instead of giving a recorded statement to the insurance company, however, it would probably be better to compose a written affidavit (under oath) with the help of your attorney and submit that instead of a recorded statement.
A well-written statement will “stick to the facts,” and it might look something like this:
- I left my home at about 8:15 a.m.
- I drove southbound on Bendt Avenue.
- Your insured was driving eastbound on 14th Street at the same time.
- As I approached the intersection of Bendt Avenue and 14th Street, your insured ran the stoplight and violently smashed into my car broadside.
- I had been paying attention to the road, I was not distracted, and I had the right of way at all times, up to and including the time of the accident.
- At the moment of impact, I immediately felt a crushing sensation in my torso, combined with sharp pain.
- Your insured approached me, asked me if I was injured, and apologized for the accident.
- Two witnesses stopped to help me. Their names were John Doe and Mary Roe. Their addresses and contact details are set out below.
- The police came a few minutes later and filled out a police report.
You should also include details of any medical treatment you have undergone to date, including first aid received at the scene of the accident, treatment in the hospital, and follow-up care after you left the hospital. This document must be drafted very carefully because every sentence (and in some cases every word) will have consequences.
The Pre-Existing Injury Trap
In addition to refusing to give a recorded statement, don’t give the insurance company unfettered access to your past medical records unless you are claiming under your own policy and your policy language requires you to do this. Be careful: You could give authorization accidentally. Never sign anything they give you without running it by your lawyer first.
Insurance companies just love to find pre-existing injuries on your record or information that could buttress a claim of a pre-existing injury. Suppose, for example, that you have had back problems in the past, and you are now claiming to have hurt your back in the accident.
If the insurance company finds out about your previous back problems, they will jump on it.
They will probably try to attribute all of your current back pain to pre-existing back problems and claim that the accident neither caused your back pain nor made it worse. If this was true, the element of causation would be missing from your claim and your claim would fail. If they can get away with this, they will be completely relieved of the responsibility to pay anything to compensate you for your back problems.
Contact Us Immediately for a Free Initial Case Evaluation
At Berkowitz Hanna, we win the vast majority of our cases. Because of this, we can afford to work on a contingency basis. You will owe us nothing, ever, unless we win your claim and the claim is actually paid. Once this happens, we will be entitled to a pre-agreed percentage of the total. That means you will never receive a bill for us, and you will never need to pay us anything until and unless we win your case.
The longer you wait to pursue your claim, the weaker it will become. Act now to schedule an initial case evaluation with us. During the evaluation, we will listen to your story, answer your questions, discuss the relevant issues, and decide whether your claim is viable. If it is, then we will start moving right away. Call Berkowitz Hanna directly, or simply fill out our online contact form to get the ball rolling.