When you are involved in an auto accident, you will probably have to deal with at least two different insurance companies, your own and the insurance company for the other motorist involved in the accident. You have different obligations depending on which insurance company you are dealing with.
Dealing With Your Own Insurance Company
Your own auto policy creates a contractual relationship between you and your own insurance company. This means the policy imposes certain duties on you that you must comply with if you expect your insurance company to pay benefits under the policy.
Your policy very likely has a requirement that you promptly notify your insurance company if you have been involved in an accident. You should provide them notice if anyone was injured in the accident, or the accident causes significant damage to the involved vehicles or other property. Your policy should tell you how long you have to notify your insurer, but generally it is a good idea to give them notice as soon as reasonably possible. Expect your insurance company to ask for basic information about the accident, such as when and where it happened, if anyone might have been hurt, if there was any damage to the vehicles involved, names and contact information for any other drivers or passengers involved in the accident, insurance information for any other drivers involved in the accident, and the name of any law enforcement agency that responded to the accident.
Almost all insurance policies also have what is referred to as a cooperation clause. This clause is referred to that way because it generally obligates an insured to cooperate with their own insurance company in its investigation into an accident and any injuries or damages arising out of it. Among other things, your duty to cooperate with your own insurance company may obligate you to provide them relevant documents and facts, allow the insurance company to inspect your car, provide your insurance company with a recorded statement, answer questions under oath, and be examined by a doctor hired by the insurance company.
Dealing With Another Party’s Insurance Company
Your obligations are substantially different when dealing with the insurance company for another motorist involved in an accident. Unless and until you expect an adverse insurance company to pay you damages as a result of an accident, you are under no obligation to talk to or cooperate with an adverse insurance company. Generally, you should only talk to the other driver’s insurance company at two times during your claim. The first is when you call to report the claim or confirm a claim has been opened. At that point you should only report the date, place and time of the crash. The next time you talk to them is when you have either finished your medical treatment, or your doctor considers you medically stationary and tells you what treatment you should expect to need in the future. You should then obtain all of your medical records and bills yourself to send to the insurance company in support of a settlement demand to them.
The other driver’s insurance company may ask you for a release for your medical records. You are under no legal obligation to give them one. If you give the other insurance company a medical release, they will have direct access to your personal medical history and you will have no opportunity to review what they get in advance. You should remember the adverse insurance company is not looking out for you. They are looking to protect their own financial interests. Their goal is to convince you to settle your claim for as little as possible.
The other driver’s insurance company may also ask you for a recorded statement. You are under no obligation to give them one either. Again, the insurance company’s purpose in taking such a statement is to help protect their own financial interests. They are looking for potential evidence to either find you at fault or to minimize the amount they need to pay you in damages. Frequently, such a request is made within just a few days after a crash, when you do not yet know the extent of your injuries and damages from the crash. The insurance adjuster may push you to agree to facts you don’t know are accurate. If your claim ends up in litigation, it may not be for months or even years after the collision. Inconsistencies between what you said in your recorded statement and what you testify to in a deposition or at trial can be used against you to make you look untrustworthy.
Before another motorist’s insurance company will pay you on a claim they will ask you to sign a release of claims form. This form releases the responsible party, the other driver and their insurance company, from all liability to pay you damages as a result of the accident, in exchange for payment of a sum of money to you. Once you sign this form, you will not be able to make any additional claims against the other driver’s insurance company arising out of the accident.
When a Personal Injury Attorney Can Be Helpful
If you are involved in a minor accident, the other drive is completely at fault, you were not hurt of if you were your injuries were minor and your doctor does not think you will have lingering problems from them, and the damage to the vehicles was minimal, it probably will not be worthwhile to involve a personal injury attorney in your claim. But if your injuries were serious, you are still treating for your injuries months after the accident, you have missed more than a few days from work, school or your other normal activities, there is a dispute over whose fault the accident was, multiple people were injured in the accident, or the insurance adjusters are not being reasonable, you may want to consider retaining a personal injury attorney.
Insurance claims representatives are professionals with extensive experience in handling claims arising out of auto accidents. Their job is to minimize the amount they pay out on claims. At Baumgartner, Nelson & Wagner, PLLC, our job is to obtain fair compensation for our personal injury clients. If you are involved in a significant auto accident or do not feel an insurance company is being reasonable, please do not hesitate to contact us at (360) 694-4344 for a free consultation concerning your claim.