How to Deal with an Insurance Adjuster
After an accident, you will be contacted by an insurance adjuster about your injuries and property damage. You may hear from the adjuster for your own insurance company as well as the adjuster for the insurance company that insures the other vehicle involved in the accident. It is important to know which party the adjuster actually represents because his or her loyalties are to the insurance company that employs them and the individuals they insure.
You have a duty under your own policy to cooperate with your insurance company. You must cooperate with your company in the investigation, settlement or defense of the case, sign authorizations if requested, submit to an examination under oath (similar to a deposition), and submit a proof of loss, if requested. Before signing any documents or providing any information, it is always best to speak with an attorney to be sure you are not signing away any of your rights or prejudicing your case. Typically, your insurance adjuster will request a recorded statement. Although this level of cooperation is usually required under the terms of your policy, you should not do so before speaking with an attorney.
Your insurance adjuster will decide if you or the other party is at fault. If you are determined to be at fault, your insurance company will attempt to settle the property damage and bodily injury issues with the other party up to the policy limits you purchased. Your insurance company has the absolute right to decide how much, if any, they will pay to settle any claim against you.
If you are not at fault for the accident, the other party’s insurance adjuster will request a recorded statement from you. It is strongly recommended that you not agree to this request because anything you say can and likely will be used against you. While you should present your version of the events leading up to the accident, you should not allow the conversation to be recorded. This way, if the adjuster later wants to use something you said against you, he/she has to testify personally to what you said and submit to cross examination. If anyone asks you for a recorded statement, just say “not until I have consulted an attorney”.
The other party’s adjuster will also ask you to sign authorizations allowing the adverse insurance company to obtain your medical and employment records. Again, we strongly recommend that you not do so. You or your attorney should furnish to the insurance company only those records you want the insurance company to see. Typically, the medical and employment authorizations the adjuster requests that you sign are too broad and give the insurance company access to much more information than you may want them to have. You should also review all medical and employment records before furnishing them to the adjuster, so any mistakes in the records can be addressed first.
The other party’s insurance adjuster may also attempt to settle your bodily injury case with you before you are released from treatment. There are insurance companies that will be at your house within 24 hours of a claim being reported, trying to get you to settle your case. They usually offer some portion of your medical bills and a nominal amount for pain and suffering. This may be a good deal if your injuries are minor. However, many times you do not know the full extent of your injuries until weeks or months after the accident. It is usually best to wait until you have completed treatment and your injury has resolved before you settle your case.
Keep in mind that the adjuster typically is not an attorney and cannot properly advise you of the legal ramifications of what you are signing. Again, it is always best to seek the advice of an attorney before signing any documents for the insurance company.
Adjusters can be pushy when trying to close a case. Take your time and be sure you are doing what is in your best interest, not the insurance company’s best interest. If you have any questions at all or feel something is just not right, consult an attorney. Also, it is important to know that very rarely do insurance companies withdraw a settlement offer. So If they pressure you to hurry, remember that the offer will probably be good well into the future.
It bears repeating that you should not give a recorded statement or sign any papers without consulting with an attorney experienced in handling accident cases. It is usually best if an attorney talks to the other insurance company for you. However, should someone come to your house or call you, it is better for a friend or a relative to speak with the claims adjuster, rather than you. If you speak to the claims adjuster, you will rarely improve your claim. It is always best to have an attorney talk to the adjuster to be certain that the facts about the accident are correct. Many times a claims adjuster will want to know about your injuries from the accident as well as your prior medical condition. Do not be lulled into what you believe is a friendly chat. The claims adjuster has a job to do and that job is to save the insurance company money. So, if an adjuster should casually ask “how are you today?” and you politely say “fine,” the adjuster will write down in his or her journal that you are not hurt since that is what you said that day. The adjuster who calls you will try to get you to admit that the accident was partially your fault! If the insurance company can get you to admit that, then they can avoid paying you the full value of your claim. This type of mistake can be very costly to an injury victim.