After motor vehicle accidents, the parties involved in the collision usually receive a request for an interview by the insurance company. Whether it’s the insurance company for the at-fault driver or from your own insurance company, often both can be stressful. These insurance interviews usually involve discussions of your past medical history or the circumstances surrounding the collision. For years, we have been giving well-tested advice to clients who are preparing for their interviews with the insurance company. Hopefully these eight tips will help you understand the process and make post-accident interviews with insurance companies less stressful.
- You get more flies with honey...When insurance companies contact you, your approach can be one of hostility or of kindness. Oftentimes, if you are injured in a car crash caused by the negligence of another person, you are going to be very upset and frustrated. However, keep in mind that people at the insurance company are human beings, and like nearly all humans, they respond better to kindness. Please understand that these people are simply doing their jobs. They are not responsible for injuring you and almost never truly care how the outcome ends up for you. Attitude is everything. If you are nice to them, they will have less interest in causing you problems along the way.
- "Just the facts, Ma'am." This may date me, but it was a common catch phrase from a 1960’s sitcom called Dragnet. Sometimes, during the course of these recorded interviews, people get off topic and begin to speculate. When they get off topic in answering questions, this can create problems for their cases down the road. If they ask you a question, remember, it is best not to speculate about what another driver was thinking, how fast the other driver was going, why the cop gave a ticket, or where an eye witness must have been standing. Focus on you, your injuries, and what you know to be true.
- Less is better. A simple rule is to only answer the questions that you are asked by the insurance adjuster. Don’t feel like you need to elaborate on every answer you give and fill in every silent or awkward moment in the conversation. Silence is good. You will look more honest if you can answer a question directly rather than having to talk all around the question.
- Tell the truth. For the insurance company, the purpose of the interview is to get you to firm up your story as soon as possible after the motor vehicle accident. Honesty is the best policy, so be truthful. If you are having back pain, but you are not having shoulder pain or wrist pain, tell them what really hurts. It’s okay if not every part of your body is injured. It’s also great if something that hurt days after the accident is now better. Focus on the truth. If you have had prior injuries in a similar location of your body, you certainly need to answer affirmatively if they ask you if you have ever had problems in that same area of your body. In fact, to avoid looking deceptive, you probably should volunteer that information even if you aren’t directly asked. Nevertheless, it’s okay to say that while you’ve had back pain in the past, you have not treated for back pain in years and what you’re experiencing now is much worse than it ever was before. At the same time, do not over-reach. Telling wild stories about your case and offering strange explanations about the facts surrounding your collision can negatively affect your injury case. If you tell the adjuster a story about how your car flew through the air because the other driver hit you going 80 mph, it is only going to hurt you later when it is determined that you have less than $1,000 worth of damage to your car. For example, one explanation as to why you may not have taken an ambulance ride to the hospital could truthfully be that you looked at the back of your car and it did not look like a substantial amount of damage and you assumed that whatever pains you had would go away shortly. When the pain didn’t go away, you went to the hospital some days later. That is both a true statement but it takes into consideration the realities of the circumstance and is certainly more explainable than some other story about how the paramedics forgot to put you in the ambulance.
- Timing is everything. The law in Colorado does not allow the insurance company, even with your consent, to take a recording of you within 15 days of the motor vehicle collision if you are under the care of a doctor, hospital or healing professional of any sort regarding your injuries. Said another way, people on Vicodin tend to sometimes tell weird stories. But even when you are not on pain medication, oftentimes, a person’s perception after a shocking event like a motor vehicle accident can look wildly distorted when put on recording and reviewed at a later time. When insurance companies insist on taking a recorded statement within 15 days of the collision, know full well that they are violating state law, but they chose to do so anyway. If an insurance company is attempting to take your recorded statement within 15 days of the collision and you are under the care of a doctor, the best response is to ask the adjuster whether they are aware that it would be illegal under the circumstances. If they are trying to take advantage of you, this may also be an opportune time to consider talking to a lawyer.
- Put off until tomorrow what can be done today. That’s actually a reverse of the known catch phrase, however, it’s intentional. In the days following a motor vehicle collision, telling the insurance company every jot and tittle about your injuries and how the collision has affected you may very well be hurtful in the long run. If the insurance company contacts you and request that you do a recorded statement today, our advice would be that you suggest next week or even the week after as more acceptable since you are still in the midst of trying to deal with doctors and pain. Simply tell them that you would be a lot more comfortable if you could do this interview in a week or so when your pain has subsided and you can better concentrate on the questions. If you get pressured by an insurance company to do a recorded statement, you should probably consider contacting a lawyer because the insurance company is likely pressing the issue in an effort to affect your rights.
- The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but no whiners. Again, going back to the fact that adjusters are people too, they will generally be motivated to assist you if you tell them about your problems and what you need. Oftentimes, when getting a rental car, you will get a better get a much better result if you are clear about the type of vehicle you need. For example, if you had an expensive late model sports car, your rental car should not be a cut-rate domestic version of a Yugo. The insurance company owes you a rental car that is a reasonable equivalent of your current vehicle. Don’t be afraid to bring that topic up. And while the squeaky wheel does get the grease, when a person gets characterized by their insurance adjuster as a whiner, they end up having trouble down the road. While you are injured and might feel like whining, do your best to avoid whining. Give the impression to the insurance company that you understand that you have been given lemons, but you’re going to do your very best to take these lemons and make lemonade. That is generally a good approach to take with insurance companies and you will find that it will make them want to help you more.
- Lastly, to lawyer up or not lawyer up? You’re going to be surprised by my answer: You do not always need a lawyer. Even in personal injury cases, if you are prepared to take the time to research your rights, there is nothing wrong with handling your own case. If you are injured in a car crash, it’s far more important to establish a doctor/patient relationship early on rather than a lawyer/client relationship. My advice to you is that if you are thinking about retaining a lawyer, and at that same time, the insurance company contacts you for an interview, tell them that you are going to meet with your family lawyer and that that lawyer will contact the insurance company to set up a time for that interview. However, if you have decided to go on your own, the tips offered above will be helpful to get past a lot of the pitfalls that people end up in when they talk to insurance companies.
At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn, we understand that car accidents cause a lot of stress, worry, and inconvenience. Having to deal with insurance companies and their questions can make the whole situation even more stressful. If you have been injured in a car accident, and you are uncomfortable talking to the insurance company, please call 303-782-9999 and speak with one of our attorneys today.