We get asked this question a lot, “After an accident, is the insurance company my friend or my enemy?”
Chapter 6 – “Dirty Tricks…..What The Business of Insurance is Really About”
When I first began representing injured clients seventeen years ago I asked myself this question, “Is the insurance adjuster my client’s friend and advocate?” It took one conversation with the very first adjuster that I spoke with to find the answer….NO! People who have been injured forget that insurance is a business. Injured people believe that making a claim is about fairness, specifically about them being fairly compensated. Unfortunately, noting can be further from the truth. The insurance company’s goal is to pay the least amount possible on your claim. The less money they give you, the more money they have. It really is that simple. Add to the equation the fact that an insurance company has unlimited resources, decades of experience handling these claims in a way that is advantageous to them, and an army of lawyers, and you can see how the deck is stacked in favor of the insurance company.
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Over the years I have come to the conclusion that immediately after an accident the goal of the insurance company for the at-fault driver is to resolve your injury claim quickly and for a small amount of money. In fact, some insurance companies advertise that they have a fleet of vehicles with adjusters who will come to the accident scene and help when you, their insured, is in an accident. I have been told by clients that these adjusters are most interested in issuing a check and getting a settlement release signed by the injured person who their insured hurt. Doesn’t it make sense that an easy and cheap settlement is the real reason the adjuster came straight to the accident scene?
So why does this work? Why would someone settle right then and there? I believe that this works well for insurance companies because immediately after many accidents the victim doesn’t feel hurt. Their adrenaline is pumping. They are thankful to not have broken bones and to not see any blood. So they take $500.00 or so and sign a liability release. Then the next day they wake up sore and now realize they are hurt, but it is too late because they have already settled their claim for pennies on the dollar. Do not end up in that situation. We have had client after client who initially thought that they simply sore but would get better, later learn that they needed surgery to repair a torn up shoulder, a herniated disk in their back, or some other significant injury. These types of cases could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, not the mere hundreds that are offered initially after an accident. So don’t be victimized a second time by an early settlement!
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I have had clients come in to hire me and they have told me that they have cashed a check from the other drivers insurance company. The client was told by the adjuster that the check was simply to reimburse them for their out of pocket expenses and lost wages, but was not the end of their case. So they took the check and cashed it. Then when we contacted the insurance company we were told that the client had already settled their case. When we reviewed the cashed check the case had in fact been settled. Although I was not a party to the conversation between my potential new client and the insurance adjuster so I don’t know exactly what was said, I can tell you that I have seen this many times over my career. People who have been injured also believe that in order to settle their case they must sign a settlement release. This, in fact, is not the case. If the client is part of the settlement discussions and makes an informed decision to settle the case, it is probably settled. So when you have accepted and cashed the insurance company’s check this is probably enough for the insurance company to win the argument that the case was actually settled. So the best advice that I can give you is do not cash a check from an insurance company unless you are ready to settle your case or unless you are 100% sure that by cashing the check you are not settling your entire case.
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Typically, after an accident the insurance company for the other driver will want to get a recorded statement from you. They will ask you about the accident facts, your injuries, and anything else that they are interested in. Legally you do not have to agree to give them this recorded statement. If you choose to, it’s important that you understand the reason the insurance company is recording the conversation is because they will use what you say against you in the future if, at some point in the future, you say something different. For example, we have had clients give a recorded statement prior to hiring us and before the actually felt injured and the client has said that they did not believe that they were injured. Then, when the soreness set in over the next few hours and the client needed medical care, the insurance company used the fact that the client said they didn’t believe that they were injured in order to deny paying for the client’s care and to deny the client’s injury claim. Just keep in mind that if you agree to give a recorded statement you do not have the option to misspeak or to paint an incomplete picture.