No matter who is at fault, most accidents have one thing in common: One minute you are driving down the road, and the next minute you collide with another car or an object by the roadside. Sometimes both. If the immediate injuries are minor, you probably spend the next few seconds wondering “what just happened?” More major injuries might involve your waking up in the hospital, or worse. Either scenario, however, raises one question: how should we handle the insurance company? In a word, carefully. Here is some advice on meeting legal requirements while also preserving your rights.
Things to keep in mind
Knowing how to interact with your insurance company requires that you understand how insurance works. In addition, you should know your priorities in the immediate aftermath of an accident. The situation can change over time, so it is important to not give the insurance companies an easy way to reduce your payment.
You may not know the extent of your injuries yet
First and foremost, it is important to understand that doctors might not know what medical treatment you need right away. In addition, your response to treatments can dictate how quickly you recover. Let us take whiplash as an example. As experienced personal injury lawyers, we know that whiplash injuries often take time to become evident. This means that you might get injured and not experience symptoms right away. You might also not realize you need medical treatment for these injuries right away.
Damages from injuries can include more than the medical bills
If you are like most people in California, you have a job and other responsibilities. Maybe it is family duties, taking care of children, or serving as a caretaker for an elderly relative. When you are injured in a car accident, you will probably have to take time off. Sometimes it is just a few hours, such as when you get an exam at the hospital and are sent home. However, severe injuries can take weeks or months to recover. In rare situations, injuries result in serious disability or death. When dealing with the insurance company, you need to remember that damages may still be unknown.
California is a “comparative liability” state
In California, the question of comparative liability helps determine how much of your damages must be paid to you. For instance, let us say that you are T-boned by another car while going through an intersection. You entered the intersection just after the light turned green, so your presence there was legal under the California Motor Vehicle Code. On the other hand, the car that hit you entered the intersection just as the light was turning red. Video surveillance and witness statements say that the other driver was going too fast, so you could not avoid the other car. Your insurance company determines that the other driver was 100% at fault, and your damages were $10,000. Under California law, you are entitled to all of this money. If the insurance company determines that you were 10% at fault, though, then you would only recover $9,000.
It is difficult to know all the details right away
Finally, before we discuss how to handle your insurance company, you need to understand that the facts are not always known immediately. After a serious accident, the police will frequently have to speak with multiple witnesses. There might be closed circuit television footage that was not immediately known. In addition, crash data might require analysis. For this reason, your initial sense of what happened may prove to be inaccurate.
Contacting your insurance company to report the accident
The first thing you need to know is that timing is important. California law requires that accidents involving injury or death be reported to law enforcement within 24 hours. This report can be made by one of the involved parties, or by their representative. In addition, most insurance companies require that the accident be reported in a timely manner. Besides these two requirements, it is important to know the specifics of dealing with each insurance company.
Call your agent or claims center
If you purchased the car insurance through a local insurance agent, then this is often your first point of contact. Most insurance agents do have office hours, but it is worthwhile to have a familiar voice on the other end of the line. Insurance agents know how to get your initial claim filed in a timely manner. Plus, they know what coverages you have. Call during business hours, and you are less likely to sit on hold for an extended period of time.
For drivers who bought their policy directly through the insurance company, it is usually necessary to phone a call center. In this case, you will select the option for claims or reporting an accident. From here, you will be directed to the next available agent. This agent will take your information and open a claim.
Be careful what you say
Once you are talking to an agent, it is important to be very careful what you say. Insurance agents and adjusters are not your friend when there is a claim. In fact, their goal is always to settle the claim as fast as possible, and for the lowest possible cost. For that reason, the less information you give them, the better. No matter how friendly that insurance adjuster appears to be, their job is to get information which can be used against you later.
Tell them the essentials
During your initial phone call, there are certain pieces of information which you must give them. Besides your policy information, these mandatory facts are as follows:
- Your personal information: name, address, phone number
- The names of any passengers
- Name, address, and phone of any other drivers involved in the accident
- Information for the other driver’s insurance company
- Details of the cars which were involved. For example, you might say that you were driving the Toyota on your policy, while the other driver was in a red Honda Civic.
- If you have a police report number, it is fine to give this to the insurance company. If not, let them know who you filed the report with.
How to avoid problems with your insurance company
Just like there are things which you must do in order to protect your rights or fulfil legal requirements, there are things that you must avoid. Remember, insurance companies like to collect premiums and pay out as little as they can in claims. To that end, when you must report a claim, tread carefully.
Do not let them record the call
First, keep in mind that recording the telephone call is not in your best interest. By recording the call, your insurance company is trying to gather evidence that can be used against you. This might take the form of reducing your settlement or worse, denying your claim.
- Recordings allow the insurance company to claim your story is inconsistent later.
- Recordings let them find partial fault on your part-or place it squarely on your shoulders.
- Recordings made with your consent might be admissible in court.
Keep a written record
Make sure that you keep a record of conversations. Insurance companies love to change their story and deny responsibility for an accident. Especially if the claim turns out to be expensive, there is no incentive for them to pay more than the bare minimum. However, like recordings a written record can be used in court.
Avoid admitting fault
Remember, the less you are found to be at fault the more your insurance company must pay. To that end, insurance companies will try anything to make it look like you are at fault for an accident. If they can pay out less money, then it means more money for the insurance company. Leaving hardworking Californians with their medical bills and other damages is what insurance companies do best.
Let an accident attorney handle your insurance company
While you will probably have to make the initial accident report yourself, it is important that you talk to an experienced trial attorney as soon as possible. At TorkLaw, our experienced team fights the insurance companies every day. Just hearing that an insured driver has hired an attorney will make the insurance companies listen more carefully, because attorneys are experienced at getting money out of them.
Hiring an attorney has another advantage: we will do most of the talking. This means that you can focus on recovering from your injuries. Our respected car accident attorneys will give you the advice needed to ensure that your rights are respected and you get the care you deserve. Even better, we will document all of your damages and press for maximum compensation. Best of all, you will owe us nothing unless we get you a settlement.
If you have been injured in an accident, time is of the essence. Call us at 888-845-9696 today. An evaluation of your case is free.