What You SHOULDN’T Say to Your Insurance Company after a Car Accident
This is a guest post courtesy of Perry J. Armitage, a senior personal injury lawyer at McQuarrie, a law firm that provides comprehensive legal services throughout BC.
When you are in a car accident, you will inevitably have to talk with your insurance company after filing an insurance claim. This can be highly stressful, especially if it was a major accident that involved serious damages or injuries.
Insurance companies will try to avoid liability and may refuse to pay for insurance claims based on little things you say that you might never imagine would become a problem. That’s why it is so important to know ahead of time exactly how to handle speaking with your insurance representative when they call to discuss your claim.
It is always important to be truthful when reporting your claim; otherwise you could be in breach of your policy of insurance. That doesn’t mean you must give up complete control of the process. You should contact your lawyer ahead of time so they can outline a full strategy on how to report your claim, and more importantly, what not to say, regarding your case. Here are the precautions you should take when discussing your accident with your insurance company:
Don’t Say Anything Until You Have To
The first step comes during the immediate aftermath of the accident. You will be shaken up, highly stressed, and potentially dealing with serious injuries that need to be treated before you should think about talking with your insurance company at all. You may need more time, particularly if your injuries are affecting the quality of your sleep or if you are taking that impairs your thinking.
While you can file the claim quickly, you don’t have to give them specific details of your claim right away. You needn’t necessarily be in a rush to file your claim, even if it’s important to you that you receive the insurance payment quickly. Don’t let them pressure you into talking to them. Always wait until you’re ready.
Any time you talk with them, you will need to be prepared and focused so you avoid saying the wrong things they could use to reject your claim. Speak with a lawyer to help advise you on your case and take time to collect your evidence and documentation.
Insurance companies may try to push you into thinking you have to talk to them right away, hoping you slip up. Do not let them pressure you like this. You absolutely have the right to let their calls go to voicemail or wait until you are ready to respond to them. Speaking with a lawyer will give you an understanding of how much time you can take.
Don’t Say Anything Was Your Fault
When you do choose to talk with your insurance company, be careful not to carelessly admit fault for the accident. Even if you think you may be at fault for the accident, you very likely don’t have the full story and there may be factors of which you are not yet aware.
If you think the other driver was the one mostly at fault, don’t take it as an excuse to graciously admit to anything that can be perceived as admitting fault indirectly, such as apologizing for anything. This includes admitting to doing something that could be a factor in causing the accident, such as:
- Driving over the speed limit
- Having any alcoholic drinks before driving
- Driving recklessly
- Running a red or yellow light
- Being distracted while driving (using a cell phone, eating, trying to operate your radio or GPS, etc)
If you admit to these behaviors, the insurance company may use that information against you. When you do describe the accident, stick to the facts and take direction from your lawyer to ensure that the information is conveyed in a way that best represents your claim.
Avoid adding details that could be used against you: “I saw the light turn yellow and sped up a bit to make sure I got through in time, and the other driver crashed into me”. Instead, you can phrase it like this: “My car entered the intersection where it was struck by the other driver”. Speak about it dispassionately and impersonally, like you were narrating it as a spectator.
Don’t Say You’re Not Hurt
As any medical professional can tell you, injuries are not always immediately apparent. So you should never say when talking with your insurance company that you are not hurt or were not harmed by the accident, unless, of course you know that with complete certainty.
When you tell your insurance company you are fine, they may use that as a basis to deny a later claim for your medical bills. Do not assume you know your medical condition unless you have consulted with a physician and undergone a full examination.
Damage to the spine, the brain or internal organs can take a long time for symptoms to show. You may have suffered a brain or spinal injury that is minor enough to be passed off as simply soreness, but later develops into something more serious. You may not realize that you suffered something like a concussion or internal trauma, because your nerves may not communicate the depth of the damage to you.
This is another reason why insurance companies will push you to talk with them sooner after an accident, because they know all of this. If they ask if you have any injuries right after the accident, you may truthfully answer that you think you’re fine only to find out that you did suffer legitimate injuries that need to be treated and deserve compensation.
So if your insurance company asks how you are, or if they directly ask you if you were injured or not, you should deflect the question until a later time when you can be sure.
Be Careful when Disclosing whether or not you’re Considering Representation
When you are speaking with the insurance company, they may try to find out if you have already retained a lawyer or had a consultation. They may not ask directly, but what they are doing is trying to find out how well informed you might be about the claims process. If you tell the insurance company that you have not consulted with a lawyer they may try to increase the pressure to get you to say the sorts of things you shouldn’t. Having legal representation or even just a free consultation will always give you a head start over someone trying to do it alone.
That’s why it’s always worth at least getting a free consultation about your case, but the other benefit of retaining a lawyer is that they can speak to the insurance company for you. Good lawyers will have the experience and knowledge of what to say and what not to say, and the buffer they pose between you helps prevent you from making statements that can be used against you later on.
Don’t Accept Anything They Say or Offer
A common trick by insurance companies is to try and make you a quick lowball offer to settle. It may even seem like a good offer at the time, and be presented as a way to quickly help you deal with all your repair and medical bills fast. Don’t accept any such offers without first seeking a legal opinion.
If you have substantial injuries or damage to your vehicle and property, there will be numerous ways in which you can claim compensation. Things like lost wages for missed time at work, the cost to rehabilitate from serious injuries over time and the cost for therapy due to anxiety or PTSD caused by the accident are all things your insurance may cover.
That’s why some insurance companies will try and offer you what seems like the full cost just for your immediate bills. It may seem like a good offer because you may be off work and need to cover additional expenses, or get your car repaired or replaced. Consult with a lawyer first.
Don’t Offer Any Opinion on What Happened
If they ask for additional details about the accident or your injuries which are beyond your knowledge, you do not have to guess or give your opinion . You can always say you don’t know — in fact that is usually better than giving your own estimation of how fast you were driving, where exactly the collision took place, what the other driver was doing, and so on.
Stick only to the facts, and only to the facts that you actually know. You may think you have to offer up more information to help your case, or you just want to try and be more helpful. However, our memories in traumatic and stressful situations can be very unreliable, and you may unintentionally harm your case.
Don’t Make Any Official Statement
Avoid or delay making any official statement, whether you offer it or they ask for one, until you’ve consulted with a lawyer. You will be asked a lot of questions and have to give a lot of answers and statements after an accident: to the police, to your lawyer, to the doctors, and to your insurance company. But general comments given in passing are much different than your actual, official statement that can carry much greater weight in court.
An official statement is something you should take time to prepare, considering everything that has been said above. This is where a lawyer can provide a lot of guidance, even through a free consultation. You want to include all the important facts and information from your side of the case, while avoiding speculating about things that could potentially be harmful. So if your claims representative tries to pressure or ask you for an official statement quickly, always say that you are not ready to make one until a later date. In the meantime, give me a call. I would be happy to hear from you.
About the Author:
Perry Armitage is a Partner and senior personal injury lawyer at McQuarrie, a law firm located in Surrey, British Columbia, also serving the Greater Vancouver and Lower Mainland area of B.C. Mr Perry has represented clients at examinations of discovery, pre-trial court applications, trials, and has brought personal injury matters in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, achieving awards as high as $2 million dollars. He consistently achieves out of court settlements for his clients, most recently reaching a $2.2 million dollar settlement against ICBC. Perry enjoys sharing his legal expertise with claimants who are going through the personal injury process in order to educate them and help them reach a fair settlement. Perry enjoys sharing his legal expertise with claimants who are going through the personal injury process in order to educate them and help them reach a fair settlement.