One of the more complicated aspects after a car accident is dealing with the insurance company. Usually within a few days of an accident, you will be contacted by an insurance adjuster who will want to try to settle your claim as quickly as possible.
Here are 10 things you should be aware of when dealing with the insurance company:
1. Insurance adjusters are trained negotiators.
Regardless of how helpful your insurance adjuster may seem, he or she is not looking out for your best interests. An insurance adjuster's job is to protect the interests of the insurance company; as such, insurance adjusters are trained to minimize the amount of money paid out on each claim - often denying the claim or not recognizing the full value of the case.
2. Insurance companies are not obligated to treat you fairly or promptly.
This is especially true when the other driver is at fault for a car accident and you are trying to file a claim against his or her insurance company. Even if the other driver cooperates with the insurance company, the company can still deny or delay paying your claim. In fact, this is typically why the first offer is a lowball offer.
3. Do not automatically accept the first settlement offer - it is rarely a fair one.
After a car accident, most people need money to get their vehicle repaired or to pay medical bills. Insurance companies know that car accident victims are vulnerable and almost always offer a lowball settlement right away.
The insurance company will try to get you to settle your accident claim quickly to minimize the amount it has to pay you for auto repairs, medical care and lost wages. But you may not actually realize the full extent of your injuries yet, and accepting the first offer could result in you coming up short as the bills pile up.
4. The insurance company will try to avoid paying your medical expenses.
As part of trying to minimize the settlement offer, the insurance company will suggest that you are lying about your injuries or trying to commit fraud. It will claim that your injuries were part of a pre-existing condition - especially if you did not go to the emergency room immediately following the accident. Be sure to keep copies of all records of your visits to the doctor and follow up on any recommended treatment.
5. Anything you say can — and will — be used against you.
Insurance adjusters want you to agree to their version of the car accident. Do not do it. Do not simply agree to a question asked. Do not give a recorded statement or sign any agreements until you talk to a personal injury attorney - no matter how reasonable the settlement may seem.
6. You do not have to take your car to the body shop the insurance company recommends.
In fact, you may not even want to because they have agreements in place with these repair shops and as such, the shops often cut corners to keep costs low. They may use cheap replacement parts or not even repair all of the damages to your vehicle. You have the right to choose where to have your car repaired. Be sure to bring the insurance company's repair estimate with you.
7. You have the right to appeal the insurance company's offer when it totals your vehicle.
Most of the time, an insurance company will decide to "total" a vehicle if the cost of repairs is 70 percent or more of the car's value. When a car is declared a loss, the insurance company is supposed to issue you a check for the vehicle's fair market value. This value is usually based on what similar used vehicles in your area are selling for - not necessarily the value established by the Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds.
When an offer is made, ask to see the "comparable" cars the company based the value on. If you think the number is particularly low, you might want to come up with your own list or even hire your own adjuster for a second evaluation. Armed with that information, you can appeal the insurance company's offer.
8. When you don't settle right away, insurance companies may begin to ignore you. This is a delaying tactic.
The statute of limitations to file an injury lawsuit after a car accident in Texas is two years. Insurance companies, after realizing you won't accept their first offer, may start to ignore you or intentionally delay your claim - losing paperwork you have already submitted, transferring you to a different agent or not returning your calls. They hope that you will either give up or miss the deadline to file suit. The best way to deal with an insurance company doing this is to hire an attorney to start making the calls for you.
9. The insurance company may try to scare you by threatening to take away your driver's license.
One of the latest extortion techniques from insurance companies is to pay a claim for a policyholder, then turn around and send a collections letter to the other driver. The insurance company does not take into account who was at fault for the accident or any other agreements in place. If you receive a letter asking you to pay this debt and threatening to have your driver's license suspended if you don't - do not panic. Under Texas law, the Department of Public Safety cannot suspend your driver's license until you have been sued and the court has issued a formal judgment against you.
When you receive a letter threatening you and asking you to pay a debt, you should send a letter by certified mail with return receipt requested to the "collections" agency and demand proof of the debt. It will not be able to provide proof because at this point there is no valid debt, just allegations from an insurance company that you owe this money.
10. Never sign anything unless you're positive you understand what it means or you've had a lawyer review it.
It is not uncommon for the fine print to include that you are signing away your rights to pursue additional damages - even if injuries end up being more serious than you originally thought - or file a lawsuit. Have a professional review anything that the insurance company asks you to sign or agree to.
After you have been injured in a car accident, you cannot count on your insurance company to take care of your best interests. To minimize the problems of dealing with an insurance company, contact a lawyer who can handle the negotiations on your behalf.
An attorney who is experienced in handling car accident cases can deal with the insurance company and make sure that you receive full and fair compensation for your injuries as well as any damages to your vehicle or property. Plus, if an insurance company does not process your claim in a timely manner or tries to use other illegal tactics to keep you from getting what you deserve, an experienced lawyer may be able to help you file a bad faith insurance claim.