Insurance companies provide a valuable service to the public, but make no mistake about it: They are a for-profit industry — and that means they are in it for the money! The amount of revenue they collect from premiums must exceed the amount they pay out in claims.
When you purchase insurance, you deal with an “agent” from the insurance company. But when you are involved in a personal injury accident, you deal with an “adjuster.”
While both the agent and adjuster might seem to be friendly, helpful and assuring, you should be wary: The adjuster’s primary goal will be to reduce the company’s financial payout by minimizing the amount of your claim.
Here are five tips on dealing with adjusters after you have been in a personal injury accident.
1. Record the scene
If you have been in a personal injury accident, such as a motor vehicle accident, make sure you collect as much information as you can at the scene. Even though there will likely be a police report, you don’t want that to be the only record of the accident. Your recollection of the accident can be crucial in the outcome of your insurance claim.
First, get as much information as you can from the others involved in the accident. Get their name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, license plate number and the name of their insurance company and policy number. If anyone admits fault on the spot, write it down.
Second, get the name, address and contact information for any witnesses at the scene. Their observations might not make it into a police report, but you will likely need them for your future dealings with a claims adjuster.
Third, if you have a camera or cell phone, take photos of the scene. If you are in a motor vehicle accident, take photos of your car and all of the other cars involved. Take photos of skid marks or other signs of the accident as well. These photos could be very valuable for proving your claim.
If you go head-to-head with an adjuster in a claim dispute, it will be one story against the other. The story that can be backed up with well-documented evidence will be the stronger one.
2. Get treatment
If you are in a serious accident of any type, make sure to seek immediate medical treatment for the sake of your health and to protect your right to recovery.
Unfortunately, many people will decline medical treatment after an accident because they are in shock at the time or don’t want to worry about a hospital bill on top of everything else that’s just happened to them. They also might not be aware of the full extent of their injuries, which could take days or weeks to become apparent.
By seeking immediate medical treatment, however, you ensure that you will have documentation of any medical problems related to the accident.
3. Hit the pause button
It’s not uncommon to be contacted by the other party’s claims adjuster by telephone shortly after you have been in a personal injury accident. This might occur within days of an accident — maybe even within hours of it — while you are still feeling shock and confusion.
The best thing to do is to thank the adjuster for his or her interest in your accident, and then to say that you would really rather wait to discuss the accident with an attorney first.
In the immediate aftermath of an accident, you might not know the full extent of the damages you have suffered. You do not want to be coaxed into waiving your right to be fully compensated for your injuries.
The adjuster might treat the phone call and a quick settlement of your potential claim as a matter of routine. But no accident that disrupts your life’s activities is a routine matter.
You should also know that adjusters could take even the most casual comment and use it against you later on to deny, delay or defend against your claim.
4. Your choice, not theirs
If you need repairs to your car after an accident, you should have the vehicle towed to the body shop of your choice. If either your insurance company or the other party’s adjuster needs to see the vehicle, let them know where it can be viewed.
It is your vehicle, and it should be your choice of what company you want to repair it. You generally do not want to go to a body shop that is suggested by the insurance company because that shop might feel pressured to do what the insurance company wants — and not what your car needs.
Going to an independent repair shop that does not rely on the insurance company for its business will simply put you in a much better position to deal with a claims adjuster, and it could put you on the road to a complete and quicker repair of your vehicle.
5. Read your policy closely
What if you have been in an accident, such as a car or motorcycle wreck, and the other party either doesn’t have insurance or has a policy that won’t fully compensate you for your damages?
The first step is to check your own liability policy to see the extent of your uninsured (UM) or underinsured (UIM) coverage.
Under the state of Washington’s UM/UIM laws, the insurance company must offer UM/UIM coverage to anyone who purchases a liability policy, and there can be no waiver of that coverage unless it appears in writing. If there is no written waiver, then the insurance company must provide the UM/UIM coverage.
Because a UM/UIM claim will put your insurance company into the shoes of the other, at-fault party, it will likely transform the relationship with your insurance company into an adversarial one. That’s why it is important to discuss your case with an attorney before getting into any discussions with your insurance company about the matter.