If you’ve been in an accident and an insurance adjuster contacts you on the phone, you should ask them certain questions:
- Will they admit fault for the accident? If they will not, you should cease the conversation immediately and contact an attorney.
- Will they pay for your car repairs, your rental car, and your medical bills?
- How much insurance did their driver carry?
- This is all information that you’re entitled to ask and you’re entitled to know in an accident case.
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 companies 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 companies 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 that 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 claims against Allstate received 2 to 3 times more in awards than those dealing with Allstate on their own. This is a big red flag. If an adjuster appears unhappy about your desire to consult a lawyer, you probably need one.