If you have ever been in a car accident, you know what a difficult process it can be dealing with the insurance company. And if this is the first time you have been in an accident, then get ready because you may have a long and painful process before you — even if you were fortunate enough not to be injured in the accident.
It is a common mistake for people to believe that their insurance companies work for them. Their slogans and commercials often create a perception that the companies’ teams of agents, adjusters and claim processers are waiting to take care of their customers if and when they need them.
Unfortunately, in many cases this simply isn’t true. Insurance is a big, multi-billion dollar business. These companies are not altruistic, but stay in business by making a profit. Their number one concern is their bottom-line, not their policyholders’ well-being. This is not to say that there are not some honest people working in the insurance industry or that there are not some claims that are paid fairly and in-full, because they are. However, this is not true in all cases, or even in most cases, so it’s best to be aware of what may happen with your insurance company after you have been in accident so that you are prepared for it.
The first settlement offer will never be a fair one.
It is common for insurance companies to offer a low-ball settlement the first time around, because they know you need the money and you are vulnerable after the accident. They also want to get rid of your claim quickly, which they know they can do once you accept their offer and cash the check.
Never accept the first offer, as most of the time, it will be less than fair compensation for your losses. Experienced attorneys know how to determine the full value of a person’s losses after an accident and often employ experts to assist them. The simple equation used by insurance companies to come up with the low number they are offering you usually will not compensate you fully for your injuries.
You keep calling, but they don’t answer.
Insurance companies often try to wear the victim down into accepting a settlement offer by stalling. They “lose” paperwork already submitted, transfer the victim to numerous agents throughout the company – all of whom appear to know nothing about the claim, and, in some cases, they simply neglect to return calls. This is frustrating to the victim, but done by design. Some victims give up and stop calling, which is exactly what the company wants. The best way to deal with them is to have an attorney make the calls for you.
“We aren’t paying those medical bills.”
Insurance companies use a variety of tactics to avoid paying medical expenses after an accident. They argue that the injuries were not caused by an accident, but were a preexisting condition. If you didn’t go to the emergency room immediately after the accident, then they will argue that you must not have been that seriously injured or that you are fabricating the injuries. They may say that you exaggerated your symptoms to the doctor to make your injuries seem worse than they actually are or that you didn’t tell the doctor about a previous injury, so the diagnosis cannot be correct. If you didn’t mention the specific injury during the taped interview with the insurance agent after the accident, then they may imply you are lying about the injury altogether.
The common theme here is that the insurance company will try to find a way to limit your recovery for medical expenses, whether by insinuating that you are exaggerating or lying about your injuries and/or trying to commit insurance fraud.
“You think your car is worth what?!”
If you car was damaged in the accident, getting the repairs you need or the fair market value for the vehicle after it was totaled can be an uphill battle. It is common for insurance companies to keep a list of preferred auto body repair shops that they will suggest their customers use for their repairs. Some insurance companies, like State Farm, have even bought up their own repair shops. While you can pick your own repair shop, you may be given incentives for choosing the insurance company’s preferred shop as well as faster service.
The problem, however, is that these shops may cut corners when repairing your vehicle. They may use cheaper replacement parts and, in some cases, may not even repair all of the damage to your vehicle. Make no mistake – shops on the preferred lists work for the insurance companies and want to keep their business, not yours. If your vehicle was fixed by one of these shops, you may want to hire a post-repair inspector to look over the work.
Rather than pay for costly repairs, insurance companies have begun declaring more cars totaled. The general rule of thumb is that if the total cost to repair the vehicle is 70 percent or greater of the vehicle’s value, then the insurance company will declare it a total loss. Once the car is declared a total loss, the insurance company will offer you what is supposed to be fair market value for the vehicle. However, they do not use Edmonds or Kelley Blue Book to come up with this figure. Instead, they employ claim servicing firms that come up with the magic number by canvassing similar vehicles that are for sale in your geographic region, often at used-car lots or from newspaper or Internet sale ads.
The comparables used by the servicing firm will be provided to you. It is a good idea to check these comparables and make sure they even exist and, if they do, that the price listed is the correct one.
If you think the number offered is particularly low, you may want to come up with your own comp list or hire an adjuster. You have the right to appeal the insurance company’s offer, which you may want to do, depending on how big the discrepancy is.
Other Tips for Dealing with Insurance Companies
- Never sign any paperwork from the insurance company, including releases and statements, until your attorney has reviewed it.
- You do not have to provide a recorded statement to the insurance company after the accident – recorded statements can come back to hurt you later, especially if you were injured in the accident.
- You do not have to allow a claims adjuster to look at your vehicle immediately after the accident. It is a good idea to have your lawyer look at it first
- You are entitled to diminished value for your vehicle if it was repaired after the accident.
- Never believe it if your insurance company tells you that you do not need a lawyer to help you with your insurance claim – even if they send you a nice brochure explaining why this is true.
Get Your Own Advocate – Contact an Attorney
If you have been in a car accident that injured you, someone else or caused damage to your vehicle, you cannot count on your insurance company to take care of your best interests. The best way to avoid problems is to get your own advocate and hire an attorney.
A lawyer experienced in handling motor vehicle accident cases can deal with the insurance company on your behalf to make sure that the company gives you a fair settlement and pays for all of the required expenses under your policy. If the insurance company fails to pay your claim in a timely manner or tries to use other illegal tactics to avoid providing you with the benefits you are owed under your policy, then an attorney may be able to file a claim of bad faith insurance on your behalf.
FACTORS THAT CAN DELAY OR LIMIT YOUR FULL RECOVERY
- Pre-existing factors such as prior injuries, scar tissue, poor physical condition, obesity, diabetes, drug abuse, nutritional disorders.
- Delays in starting treatment.
- Poor compliance with keeping treatment appointments.
- Poor compliance following doctor’s recommendations.
- Poor compliance with suggested rehabilitative exercises.
- Bio-mechanical stressors causing flareups and setbacks such as improper posture, bending, lifting, physical overuse, etc.
- Emotional stress causing muscle tensions, spinal compressions, hormonal imbalances, physical distress, etc.
- Second (new) injury overlapping.
Ask yourself, who is the insurance company really trying to help by having you settle your case quickly and prematurely? The primary reason they want you to settle your case ASAP is because they are well aware that many injuries require five months to one year of treatment in order to restore the damaged structures to their pre-injury status and some injuries result in permanent pain and difficulties.