Video Library & FAQ's
- Do I need an attorney?
This is a question clients often ask. No one wants to come out with less in their pocket when the case is over just because they hired an attorney. Obviously if your case needs to be filed in court, having an experienced attorney is a must. But many people, particularly those with minor injures, do handle their own claims without an attorney.
If your injury healed up in a couple of doctor visits, you may want to attempt tackling the insurance company on your own. However, keep in mind you'll be in an adversarial relationship where confrontation is likely. You'll be interacting with a professional who knows all the ins and outs of claims handling. You should also remember the steps you take or the steps you let the insurance company take may deal fatal blows to your case. You may unknowingly damage your claim so bad, an attorney might not be able to fix it later.
Having an experienced attorney can certainly increase the value of your claim. Study after study has born this out.*
So, do I need an attorney? If you have experience in claims handling, a working knowledge of tort law and the resources to handle a confrontational relationship with an insurance adjuster, you might be able to do just as well on your own. This is particularly true in smaller claims. However, if you don't, or if your injury is serious, you are almost always better off with an attorney.
* 1995 Allstate Training Manual. ….in settlements under $15,000, claimants with an attorney averaged $7,450, those dealing with Allstate on their own averaged $3,464. (This internal Allstate document revealed claimants with attorneys recovered 2 to 3 times more than unrepresented claimants.)
* Rand Institute study found that auto accident victims who hire attorneys receive about 25% more money than auto accident victims who do not hire attorneys - even after deducting all costs.
- Important questions to ask an Insurance Adjuster
Often an insurance adjuster will contact you right after an accident. They may appear very friendly and sometimes even send you a written "Customer Service Pledge", in an attempt to convince you your case will be handled fairly and paid at full value when settled. But beware, in order to interact successfully with an insurance company, you must become a fully informed consumer.
First, keep in mind, an insurance company is a business. Their whole purpose, like that of any other business, is to make a profit. The way you make a profit as an insurance company is to take in more than you pay out.
Second, keep in mind, insurance companiy's are usually very large corporations with highly trained personnel. Their people know the fine details of the law and know what steps they can take to defeat or minimize the value of your claim. Although some companines do treat people fairly, it is important to remember their only legal obligation is to protect their customer, not you. It is their job to take whatever measures they can to defend against your claim or to make it have as little value as possible.
The questions below can be an important barometer of whether or not the insurance company contacting you intends to deal with you fairly. If the company balks at giving information which would put you on an equal footing with them, or refuses to give information which you are entitled to by law, this is an important red flag. Unless you have experience in claims handling, a working knowledge of tort law and the resources to handle a confrontational relationship with an insurance adjuster, now is the time to get help.
1. "Will you admit fault for the accident?"
This is an important first question. Most accidents are clearly the fault of one party or the other. Unless your case is questionable, the insurance company should step up and admit fault at the outset, just as you would do if it were your fault. If they won't, this is an important red flag you may have more problems later. Ask for it in writing.
2. "How much insurance coverage does your driver carry?"
You are entitled to this information under both Oregon and Washington Rules of Court. ORCP 36 B(2), WCR 26 b(2). In fact, if a suit were filed, you would be entitled to a complete copy of their policy. If this information isn't forthcoming, you may have a problem later. Once again, get it in writing.
3. If you let the insurance adjuster record your version of the accident, ask for a copy of the recording they took from their driver.
They have both versions, why shouldn't you? If they refuse, this is a real red flag they intend to monopolize the information in the case, usually to your detriment later.
4. "Will you pay for my car to be repaired to manufacturer's specifications, without used or after market parts?"
After market parts can lower your car's value and make it unsafe on the road. Insurance companies save millions of dollars working with body shops that agree to use after market parts. Make sure your car isn't repaired that way and of course, once again, get it in writing.
5. "Will you pay for my medical bills and lost wages as they are incurred?"
Many companies do so when the blame for the collision rests clearly with their driver. If they won't, this can be an important red flag they intend to dispute these items later.
6. "Do you mind if I consult a lawyer?"
If they do, or try to convince you not to, another important red flag is raised. Insurance adjusters are trained to keep you away from a lawyer if they can. Why? Because knowledge is power in this relationship. If you get professional help, they lose the ability to control the information on the claim. They may tell you getting a lawyer will only mean you'll lose 1/3 of your settlement to the attorney as they pay the same settlement whether you get a lawyer or not. Nothing could be a bigger myth. The proof is right from the insurance companies. Allstate Insurance documents show that consumers with attorneys filing clams against Allstate received 2 to 3 times more in awards than those dealing with Allstate on their own. (Taken from Allstate Insurance Company, Unrepresented Segment Training Manual, July 1995) This is a big red flag. If an adjuster appears unhappy about your desire to consult a lawyer, you probably need one.
- Do I have to give a recorded statement?
No. Most accidents are clearly the fault of one party. The police report is available to both sides. Although the other driver's company needs to find out what happened, most lawyers advise against letting them record your voice. This is especially true if you've suffered an injury in the crash. Often times these simple recorded statements turn into lengthy interrogations about you, your past medical history and what your doctors have told you. Questions that might be confidential by law if you were in a courtroom can be asked with impunity here.
- Do I have to sign a medical release?
No. If you are injured and decide to exercise your right to make a claim, you will need to eventually furnish your doctor's records so a value can be determined. However, signing a medical release gives the insurance company extensive rights to obtain all of your past medical records and even go and talk to your doctor without you being present. Medical information that may be irrelevant, embarrassing and confidential by law can now be obtained. Most lawyers advise against it.
- Do I have to see the insurance company's doctor?
No. Only after a lawsuit is actually filed does the other side have a right to make you see their doctor. Even then the court will grant their request only if "good cause" is shown. When this occurs, your attorney can place reasonable restrictions on what type of doctor you see and how the exam is conducted.
- How do I determine what my case is worth?
This can be a tough one. There is no industry formula of three times your medical bills. Although most cases never go to court, your case is worth what a jury of 12 people would find fair in compensation for what you've lost. The law allows you to ask for payment of your medical bills, lost wages and any property damage. You are also entitled to be reimbursed for things sometimes hard to value. Scarring, disfigurement, mental anguish, disability and the toll the injury has taken on your lifestyle must be considered. Every case, like every person, is different. If you have anything other that a minor injury, seek legal advice from an attorney who is an expert in this area. Ask how many cases like yours they've handled. Don't rely on the other driver's insurance adjuster to give you legal advice. A lawyer can explain your rights, answer your questions and tell you the cost and time it takes if your case can't be resolved through negotiation. Most lawyers will do this first interview for free. An experienced attorney can also tell you what cases like yours are bringing in the courts.
- My own insurance company wants me to see their doctor; do I have to go?
No. While many insurance policies have a provision stating they can send you to a doctor, you don't have to go. You have the right to contest the reasonableness of the exam. You also have the right to waive further benefits under that part of the policy. In many cases, going to this exam can have adverse effects on your case. Before attending this type of exam a lawyer should be consulted.