If you decide not to hire an attorney to represent your interests after a car accident, it will be up to you to deal with the other driver’s insurance company. At some point, this will mean that you will be responsible for negotiating a settlement with that company for the injuries that you sustained. The value of that settlement will largely be determined by one thing – words. Specifically, your ability to obtain a satisfactory amount of money in settlement depends on what you say and more importantly, do not say during negotiations.
Oftentimes, brevity is a virtue when dealing with an insurance company. Each time that you make a statement, whether verbally or in writing, your words become weapons. If you’re not careful, you may find the insurer using your own words against you to minimize the amount of your settlement. In some cases, an offhand comment can eliminate the possibility of settlement altogether. In short, every time you deal with the other driver’s insurer, you need to be on your guard. That’s why in this article we’re going to look at some of the pitfalls you want to avoid when negotiating your car accident settlement.
You may find that the insurance adjuster handling your claim is friendly, helpful, and very sympathetic to your position. Nothing could be further from the truth. That adjuster’s job is to reduce the amount of money paid on every claim that crosses their desk as much as is legally possible. That friendly and helpful attitude is a ruse to get you to lower your guard in the hopes that you will say something that will compromise your claim.
Be polite, but professional in all your dealings with the adjuster. It is necessary to go into settlement negotiations believing that your position is correct. Do not allow the adjuster to emotionally manipulate you. Keep a strict business attitude and avoid the urge to be friendly or emotional. After all, you’re in negotiations to obtain money, not make friends.
The adjuster may ask you to give a recorded statement. If you are not represented by an attorney, do not do so. If you give a recorded statement, what you say in that statement will be used to minimize the amount of your settlement if possible. Therefore, ignore any pressure by the adjuster designed to convince you that a recorded statement is the only way to get to a settlement of your claim. You are under no obligation to give the insurer a recorded statement. It is highly unlikely that that the company would undertake the expense of litigation simply because you declined to a make a statement “on the record”. Remember, the only party to benefit from a recorded statement is the insurer.
When two people communicate, it is natural to speculate, make guesses and offer opinions during the course of the conversation. After all, that’s how human beings talk. However, dealing with an insurer is an exception to this rule. Whenever you talk to the insurance adjuster, stick to only the facts as you understand them. Limit your remarks to what you remember and what is in the official record – things like the police report and your medical records. Realize that the adjuster may ask you questions specifically designed to get you to speculate or guess. If this happens, simply refuse to answer. Remember, you are under no obligation to provide the insurer with any information beyond what you know as factual.
Avoid the temptation to lie or exaggerate about what happened. Remember that it is the adjuster’s job to investigate your claim. It’s what they do for a living. If you lie to them or pad the truth about the accident or your injuries, the odds are good that they will discover what you have done. They will then use the fact that you lied against you to minimize the amount of settlement or to deny your claim altogether. Once you lose your credibility, it cannot be regained. The only party you help by lying is the insurer.
The adjuster may ask you about your health or any medical conditions that you had prior to the accident. Answering these types of questions has the potential to derail the settlement process. Giving the insurer information about medical conditions that you may have suffered from prior to the accident will only devalue your claim. The adjuster will use that medical information to claim that your current injuries are not a result of the accident, but simply a continuation of a condition that you have had all along. Remember, the adjuster is not a doctor and is not qualified to make that type of determination. Only a real doctor would be able to determine if your current injuries are in any way related to a pre-existing medical condition.
The adjuster’s job is to investigate your claim, not for your benefit, but for the benefit of their employer. This means they will make every effort to obtain information that is irrelevant to your claim but that could be used to minimize the amount of your recovery. Therefore, do not give the adjuster the names of family members or friends unless they were also involved in the accident. Likewise, do not give the adjuster the names of your current or past employers unless you were driving a company vehicle or were on company business at the time of the accident. Remember, unrelated information can be used by the adjuster as weapon against you in the settlement process.