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THE WORST MISTAKES MADE IN HANDLING A PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM

Start with being cautious from the onset

Assuming you've done a good job documenting and photographing the collision during the time period following the collision, (see our "Glovebox 911 accident kit"), the insurance companies involved (yours and theirs) will try to engage you in discussions about the wreck and your injuries. You must be extremely careful here as many cases are lost in the initial contacts, especially if you don't have a lawyer protecting your rights. If you don't know your rights, of course, you may as well not have them because no one in this process other than you and your lawyer will ever seek to protect your rights. You will be exploited 99 out of 100 times by the insurance company representatives. You must be cautious whether you are contacted by your company (after you've reported it to them as you must according to your policy) or the other person's insurance company.

Be extremely wary of the "friendly" adjuster.

Whether the adjuster works for the person who caused the accident, or your insurance company, the same caution is required of you. If they know you are not represented by an attorney and you are ignorant of your rights and responsibilities, you hand them the advantage. They know that by chatting you up in a friendly way, they can get you to say something or say too much that will hurt your case from both the liability perspective (who's fault is it) and from the damages perspective (are you really hurt and if so, how badly?) You can not and must not trust them. Remember, this applies to your insurance company, too. You may need to make an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim on your own policy if the person who caused the wreck has no insurance or doesn't have enough insurance to cover your injuries and damages. If this is the case, you will be seeking money from your insurance company under your um/uim coverage, assuming you have it. (see our "auto insurance 911 guide for more information about uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.)

One thing you can be sure of is neither insurance company will pay one penny more than they are forced to pay for settlement of your claim. Be wary, too, of your insurance company's friendly insurance representative. If you report your accident to your insurance company, you need to understand that they will seek to protect the insurance company's checkbook at your expense whether or not you have a legitimate claim. If they ever advise you not to hire a lawyer and to handle the claim yourself, you've received bad advice designed to exploit you and benefit the insurance industry. If you are ever asked to sign anything, without having had a lawyer review it, politely but firmly refuse until it can be reviewed. I've seen injury claims that were waived, i.e., given up, when folks thought they were just signing off on property damages for their vehicle. It is extremely difficult to void a signed release. It can be done, but again, it's very difficult and you absolutely will need the services of a good lawyer to do so.

Never sign anything shortly after the wreck and while you are not thinking clearly.

It seems like a no brainer but you would be surprised how many folks fail to follow this very clear rule...and it usually hurts them down the line. Never sign anything immediately after the wreck and shortly thereafter whether you think you are in shock or not. This applies to your dealings with the other party to the accident, insurance adjusters, agents, investigators, attorneys and others seeking to "help" you. Take plenty of time to recover. After all, it is the most important thing you can do for yourself and for your family. Make sure you are thinking clearly before you sign any documents.

Do the following when talking to an insurance adjuster

  1. Always be polite, formal and never lose your temper or show frustration;

  2. Write down the name, address, and phone number of every adjuster you speak to and his/her company;

  3. You can provide your name, address, and phone number;

  4. Take notes during every conversation - they do.

  5. Ask the adjuster if there were any witnesses;

  6. Only describe your injuries in a very general sense. Do not give them specifics of the injuries because they will later say you changed your story;

  7. Ask the adjuster for all statements their insured gave (they'll never give you this but it'll be a good counter weight for their request for your recorded or written statement);

  8. Ask the adjuster if their insured was hurt and if so, how badly. This is good information to know, particularly if they were hurt. It negates any attempt by the adjuster to insist that "low impact" collisions really can't cause injuries or that you could not have been hurt in the collision.

  9. Ask the adjuster for their insured's policy limits. Again, they'll never give it to you but you can use it as a shield for unreasonable things the adjuster might ask you to which they are not entitled.

  10. Tell the truth without embellishment saying as little as possible.

Now, the things you should not do when talking to insurance adjusters:

  1. Do not give a recorded statement. This will only be used against you later on. Plus, you want to control your case and the release of information;

  2. Do not make friendly conversation with the adjuster. Stay business like and only tell them the who, what, where, when. Don't even tell them the how at this point;

  3. Do not sign anything. Insurance companies sometimes hide releases and other things in paperwork;

  4. Do not give them any information about your family;

  5. Do not give them the names of your doctors;

  6. Do not sign a medical release. Your medical records are protected by federal law. The insurance companies will only use this release to dig through all your medical history, even things not related to the car accident.

  7. Do not give them any details about your injuries.

  8. Do not settle your case before all of your injuries have been fully treated and resolved.

  9. Do not expect their sympathy is real and not a contrived way to befriend you then take advantage of your inexperience.

10 COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS

  1. INSURANCE COMPANIES TREAT PEOPLE FAIRLY. IF YOU ARE FAIR WITH THE INSURANCE COMPANY AND PROVIDE THEM WITH WHAT THEY REQUEST, THEY WILL BE FAIR WITH YOU.

  2. IF YOU ARE IN A COLLISION AND THE INSURANCE COMPANY ASKS FOR A RECORDED STATEMENT, YOU HAVE TO GIVE IT TO THEM OR THEY WILL REFUSE YOUR CLAIM AND REFUSE TO SETTLE.

  3. YOU HAVE TO PROVIDE A DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF YOUR INJURIES IN YOUR INITIAL CONVERSATIONS WITH THE INSURANCE ADJUSTER.

  4. YOUR MEDICAL BILLS AND OTHER EXPENSES WILL BE PAID BY THE INSURANCE COMPANY OF THE NEGLIGENT DRIVER AS THEY ARE INCURRED.

  5. WHEN THE INSURANCE COMPANY MAKES THEIR "BEST" OR "HIGHEST" OFFER, THEY WILL NEVER GO HIGHER.

  6. A QUICK SETTLEMENT IS A GOOD SETTLEMENT.

  7. IT IS POSSIBLE TO DETERMINE THE EXTENT AND SEVERITY OF INJURIES BY EXAMINING THE AMOUNT OF DAMAGE TO THE VEHICLE.

  8. IF A PERSON DOES NOT FEEL IMMEDIATE PAIN AT THE SCENE OF A COLLISION, THEY ARE UNINJURED.

  9. INJURIES ARE ALWAYS "CAUGHT", DIAGNOSED AND TREATED IN THE EMERGENCY ROOM.

  10. THE WASHINGTON JURY SYSTEM IS A LOTTERY.

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