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Posted On August 17, 2016 Personal Injury
When you’re in a car accident in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, dealing with an insurance company becomes a necessary hassle. But how you handle these interactions can have huge consequences. You need to know what rights and legal duties you have after an accident.
Fail to notify the right insurers promptly, and you could have a hard time getting them to pay the benefits they’re supposed to.
But share too much information with the wrong people, and you can end up hurting your claim.
Here’s what you should know about contacting the insurance companies after an accident.
The first thing you need to know is that the insurance company is not your friend. No insurer – not even your own – is on your side. You want the most money for your claim – and insurers want to pay you as little as possible.
If you have an auto insurance policy, you must promptly report your car accident to your insurer.
If you’ve never been in an accident in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, you might think that this duty doesn’t apply if you weren’t the driver at fault for the crash. After all, the person who caused the accident should be the one to pay, right?
But NJ and PA are both no-fault states. This means that your auto insurance company pays your medical benefits no matter who is at fault. That’s true even if your car wasn’t involved. Even if you weren’t driving.
You could be a passenger in someone else’s vehicle or a pedestrian walking across the street – your auto insurance company is still responsible for the medical bills. And that means that you’re responsible for letting your insurer know about the collision.
Now you know that you need to talk to your insurer. The question is, what are you supposed to say?
After 20+ years of experience practicing personal injury law, I always suggest that the safest option is to stick to the basic facts of the accident. Things like:
Why is it so important that you stick to just the facts? Because giving the insurance company too much information is one of the biggest mistakes you can make after an accident. The information you choose to share, and the way you word it, could detract from your claim and cost you thousands of dollars.
Sometimes the insurance adjuster will try to get you to discuss fault for the crash or talk about your injuries. Don’t do it.
Just say that you’re not ready to talk about that yet. If the insurance company asks if you’re injured, just say that you need to open a claim for medical benefits so you can see a doctor. You don’t want to fall into the trap of trying to describe all of your injuries, especially if the accident just happened and you haven’t even seen a physician yet.
Often, an insurer will ask you for a recorded statement. Sometimes the insurance adjuster won’t politely ask, but instead tell you that he or she “needs” to get a recorded statement from you. This makes it sound like you don’t have an option – but in reality, you do.
You can say “no” to providing a recorded statement. In fact, you should say no. Because a recorded statement will never work in your favor. The insurance company can twist your words to find ways to pay you less. But you can bet that the insurer will never use the recorded statement to help you get more money or more medical benefits.
When it’s a case of you saying one thing and the insurance company saying another, the insurer will only bring up the recorded statement if what you said supports its position – not yours.
Ultimately, the other insurance companies involved will play a role in your claim. After all, it’s the person at fault for your injuries that you pursue a claim against, and it’s that person’s or company’s insurer who pays those claims.
But you have no contract with an insurance company if you’re not the policyholder. And that means you have no legal obligation to that insurer.
What’s truly in your best interests is to reach out to a lawyer who can handle your claim for you, and let your attorney deal with the other insurance companies involved in your claim. These other insurance companies are looking for any plausible way to blame you for the accident or your injuries – and even the most seemingly harmless comment could become ammunition for their argument that you don’t deserve compensation.
If you do try to talk to these insurance companies yourself, at least try to avoid saying something damaging by sticking to the basic facts of what happened. Be aware that it’s not just what you say that matters, but how you say it and how you present yourself. An insurance adjuster could be sizing you up, trying to determine what kind of plaintiff you would make in court or simply how committed you are to following through with the claim.
Calling the insurance company may be unavoidable after an accident. But it’s always a good idea to also call a lawyer to talk over your claim with you. Keep in mind that most car accident attorneys do offer free consultations – so take advantage of this opportunity to have your case reviewed, and your questions answered, at no charge.