Our Rules of Thumb for Communicating with Insurance Adjusters
After you’ve been in any kind of accident where an insurance company is involved, you will certainly be overwhelmed by calls from adjusters who seem to urgently want information from you. They want you to give a recorded statement, they want you to sign papers and release forms, and they can pile it on surgary-sweet or with intimidating and mean tones. It can be relentless too, especially in the beginning — you get receive letters, emails and voicemails from them until you are blue in the face.
There is an art to navigating your communication with insurance adjusters. Here are our general rules of thumb:
- Avoid contact as much as you can. There is no urgency to speak with anyone, even in the very beginning when they are implying it is urgent. They can wait. Take for yourself the time first to sort out your own situation, get into the care you need and figure out how you are physically and mentally doing. Even after that, there shouldn’t be a reason to be speaking with the adjusters too much. Your own insurance company should simply be paying your medical bills under your PIP policy, and the at-fault insurance company has no right to any information from you until you are ready to present and settle your claim (see more about that in our previous posts on what is a personal injury claim and what to do and not do after a car accident).
- Always proceed with caution, even with your own company. Don’t assume that the adjuster is your friend, even if they sound like a nice person and appear to be kind or caring. Everything you share is documented in your file, and if it is advantageous to them, they can and will use it it against you later. Be cautious in what you say and what you share.
- Distinguish the two companies in your mind:
–With the at-fault insurance company: Be more strict in avoiding contact, proceed with more caution, and never, ever, EVER sign any forms releasing your medical records. The at-fault insurer is playing a completely adversary role for you in this process, and they have no duty to protect you. They have a duty only to their insured, and they are mostly concerned with saving themselves money by minimizing your claim as much as possible. So any information you share early on, especially by providing them direct access to your medical records, is used by them only to build a case against you — never to help you out. Plus, you have no legal obligation to share information with them. Only after a lawsuit is filed does an at-fault insurance company have a right to obtain your records for themselves, and in Washington state, you have 3 years from the date of the incident to decide if a lawsuit is necessary. Read more about that in our post breaking down injury claims. Until that point, releasing your medical records to the at-fault insurer is voluntary on your part and it really does nothing for you.
–With your insurance company: If you have PIP, your company does have a limited right to see your records related to your care. They will probably ask you to fill out a PIP application form which includes a medical release so they can obtain your records. The only legal purpose they have to view your records is to ensure the treatment you are getting is related to the accident, is reasonable and is necessary. Read the release you that you sign carefully. The language should be releasing your records ONLY as to your medical treatment specific to the accident. Often these forms will contain boilerplate language that grants them broad access to all records from all time, even for unrelated or prior care. This can be used by them to hunt for a prior condition as a reason to cut of your benefits early. Yes, even your own company will do that. So if there is that broad language, cross it out, and replace it with specific language. If you are unsure what to write, or whether their proposed release is ok to sign, talk to a lawyer.
- Disregard these rules for your property damage claim. Your claim for the physical damage to your car can be addressed either through your own company or through the at-fault company. For your purposes, it doesn’t matter too much either way. Regardless of which company is dealing with the vehicle repairs, rest assured that that claim is separate and distinct from the injury side of things. Property damage claims and injury claims are seperate layers of coverage within an auto policy, and there are usually different departments devoted to handle each. You may speak freely with the adjuster who is handling your property damage claim in order to get your vehicle repaired or the claim resolved as quickly as possible.
And as always, our best recommendation if you have been in a car collision is to right away consult with a lawyer regarding your particular situation. Every case is different, and talking with a lawyer doesn’t necessarily mean you must to hire one. Your injury claim is a long game and professionals who are trained to play the game can guide you and help you avoid hidden traps.
Lauren Dayani is lead personal injury attorney at Dayani Law Firm. She offers free consultations and speaks clearly and honestly about your options after a car accident. Send her a message below or call directly for a consult at (206) 777-5627
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