You’re in a car accident that wasn’t your fault. A few days later, you get a call from the other driver’s car insurance claims adjuster. It’s a common scenario that can be intimidating.
What comes next is a barrage of questions, requests for accident information, and perhaps an implication that you could be found liable for the accident. How you respond to this situation can make a critical difference in how much money changes hands.
“Most of the time, this (call) means the other driver’s insurance company knows you have a case against them, and they’re trying to do whatever they can to keep your claim against them as low as possible,” personal injury lawyer David Greene says.
Greene says that if the accident wasn’t your fault, the other driver’s insurer will rush to reach you before you get a lawyer, as it will save the company a lot of money if the attorney can reduce his client’s liability.
Here are six things you should consider if you’re contacted by a car insurance adjuster after a crash.
1. Get a lawyer.
Navigating the complex waters of a post-accident car insurance claim can be scary for most drivers. Getting legal representation can go a long way toward alleviating the stress.
“Unless you were struck in the rear, it’s likely that the adjuster is seeking to pin at least some of the accident liability on you,” personal injury attorney William Ferro says.
The adjuster may do this subtly; he will act as though he’s trying to sort out the facts, but more often than not the adjuster is building a case against you with these “facts,” Ferro says.
“I would caution anyone to consult with an attorney prior to engaging in discussions with someone who has an interest that may be adverse to yours,” Ferro says.
2. Never acknowledge that you weren’t injured.
Adrenaline is a powerful bodily chemical, and it can often mask injuries at an accident scene that you might feel a few days later.
“A lot of times people will have an accident and walk away feeling fine, but over a period of days, and sometimes even weeks, signs of injury can begin to appear,” personal injury attorney Craig Miller says.
Miller says adjusters have “all sorts of tricks” they employ to get you to admit that you weren’t injured.
“For instance, they might call up and say, ‘How are ya feeling today?’ You may casually reply that you’re feeling fine, and they may be able to use that as evidence that you weren’t injured in the accident,” Miller says.
Even if you do feel pain, don’t mention it to the adjuster. It may just be what’s known as a “masking injury.”
“For example, you may feel pain in your neck, but that’s not the primary injury,” personal injury attorney Robert Katz says. “It may only be masking pain you will eventually feel in your back a few days later. But if you only mention the neck pain, it could preclude you from compensation for the back pain when it creeps up later on.”
3. Don’t discuss your medical condition at all.
“In general, I would say that you should never discuss injuries with the adjuster,” Miller says. “It’s OK to talk about damages to the vehicle, but never injuries.”
Katz offers this advice: “During the first week after the accident, just tell the insurance adjuster that your focus is on property damage right now and that you’re being treated for any injuries you may have incurred.”
4. Keep it simple.
No need to get into the nitty-gritty details about the how, when and why the accident occurred, personal injury attorney Frederick Thomas says. Just stick to the basics.
“Let them know where your vehicle is so they can inspect it for damage, let them know if you or anyone in your vehicle was injured, and let them know what treatment you have received or are receiving,” Thomas says. “If the other party’s adjuster does ask how the accident occurred, you are not under any obligation to tell them. If you do, make sure the adjuster is not recording the conversation.”
If the insurance adjuster presses you for accident details, Katz says, you should direct the adjuster to the police report. If you don’t have a police report, you can ask the adjuster to call your insurance company or attorney for more information.
“If you start discussing how the accident occurred, they will start talking to you about all sorts of things, like whether you were on your cellphone, listening to the radio or maybe looking down at the time,” Katz says.
These questions are designed to pin responsibility on you, Katz says.
5. Don’t sign anything.
“Never sign a medical authorization allowing the (other driver’s) insurance company to gather a copy of your medical records,” Thomas says. “If you are making an injury claim and you do not hire an attorney, once you are done being treated, gather your bills and records yourself.”
6. Don’t go beyond what’s asked.
In addition to standard questions about the nature of the accident (where and when it occurred, for instance), an insurance adjuster will pose more pointed questions that you should be prepared to answer. You’re not legally obligated to answer these questions —and you certainly can ask the adjuster to speak with your attorney — but it’s always a good idea to be prepared.
Kevin Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at The American College in Pennsylvania, says one of the most common questions is: In your opinion, who had the last opportunity to avoid the accident?
“The reason they ask this is because even if the other driver hit you, you could still be held partially at fault if you had some sort of opportunity to avoid the accident at the last second,” Lynch says.
If this comes up, Lynch recommends a reply that sounds something like this: “I’m assuming the person who hit me had the last opportunity to avoid the accident.”
No matter what, Lynch says, you always should be honest — but don’t supply any more information than is necessary.
“If they ask you what time it is, don’t tell them how to build a clock,” Lynch says. “Don’t elaborate on your answers. Just answer the question that is asked. Don’t volunteer any additional information, because you don’t know what it will be used for in the future.”