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What to expect from your insurance claims adjuster after a car accident

December 14, 2010 by Steven M. Gursten

Auto accident attorney gives tips on how to best communicate with your auto insurance company

Most people recovering from a car accident assume that they will be treated fairly. They also assume they will actually receive the No-Fault insurance benefits they have been paying for, often for years, from the insurance company when they suffer personal injury from an accident. But this doesn’t always happen, thanks to an array of insurance company tactics designed to rob auto accident victims of important legal rights that put more money in the insurance industry’s pocket.

My most important advice: watch out for the one-year statute of limitations. Auto insurance claims adjusters often deliberately delay the process, claiming they need to investigate or that things have gotten “lost.” But Michigan has an extremely dangerous one-year statute of limitations, and if any bill, such as a hospital bill or EMS bill, goes beyond the one year, it becomes time-barred. Insurance company 1, customer 0.

There are many honest claims adjusters. The problem is that there are a ton of bad ones out there as well. Our No-Fault insurance lawyers have learned that many insurance companies today create perverse incentives and bonuses to insurance claims adjusters to pay out as little money as possible to an accident victim. If you or a loved one was involved in a car accident or truck accident in Michigan, communication with your insurance company’s representative or claims adjuster is crucial in protecting your legal rights.

Watch out for the “adjuster shuffle.” It’s not a dance, it’s when your file gets “re-assigned” close to the one year date. Sometimes the “new” adjuster says they need more time, or they are waiting for the file to be transferred, or things have been misplaced. I can’t stress this enough, if one year goes by, you lose.

Never discuss your case with the wrongdoer’s insurance company immediately after an accident.

Many claims adjusters, especially on the liability (pain and suffering) side will try to talk to you shortly after an auto accident, when you may still be in shock and not able to think clearly about your own legal rights. I’ve personally seen examples where the insurance company for a trucking company that killed someone attempted to “settle” the case by buying the family members Buick cars. I had my own case with Dairyland Insurance Company, where the insurance company had my clients sign total releases within a week of the accident for all claims, in exchange for a mini-tort payment that they were legally obligated to provide anyways. Within a week!

Here are a few additional tips from our auto accident attorneys to help you deal with an insurance adjuster:

1. Never give a statement to anyone without contacting a Michigan auto accident attorney first.

Never give a statement, recorded, or otherwise, to anyone, including your own insurance company, without contacting an attorney first. Often, these examinations under oath (EUOs) are used by experienced defense lawyers to take advantage of someone who does not have an attorney. In this situation, questions are asked and topics explored that have no importance or relevance to the claimed areas of investigation. The only true reason for the interviews is to lessen later exposure in a lawsuit. Because EUOs are recorded and under oath, they can be used against you in any case, even by the other insurance company.

2. Never sign any document without consulting an auto accident attorney.

Many victims rush into signing insurance adjusters’ documents without having the language reviewed by an auto accident attorney. They may lose their right to sue a negligent driver for accident-related injuries, or the right to receive critical No-Fault insurance benefits from their own insurance company. Even vehicle damage releases can contain unrelated language that can jeopardize your other claims (see my example of Diaryland above). Simply tell the adjuster that you need to review the paperwork with your attorney and will get back to them timely with your response. Hey, what do you possibly have to lose (except important legal rights) if you don’t? Most legit personal injury lawyers will not charge for an initial consultation, and most good ones don’t want to see people taken advantage of.

3. Do NOT accept the first settlement offer.

Initial offers are almost always much lower than the actual value of your car accident case. Auto insurance claims adjusters have the power to settle accident claims, but it’s rare that the adjuster and an auto accident attorney will agree on the initial car accident settlement offer. Imagine you just suffered devastating injuries from a car accident and are now recuperating at home, in pain, and worrying about how you are going to pay your bills. An insurance agent knocks on your door with a check for $5,000 for your accident. This sounds like a large amount of money, and many people would say it sounds great. This is how so many car accident victims rush into accepting the first settlement offer.

But what happens if that sore “whiplash” continues to cause pain and you later need serious neck surgery? The point is that determining the value of an auto accident case goes far beyond a simple, and early, calculation. Offering to settle is essentially a backdoor approach by insurance companies to save huge litigation costs and tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, at the expense of an accident victim’s right to a full recovery. Remember trucking companies buying Buicks to families of people negligently killed in serious truck accidents. This happens all the time.

Another great example is with Michigan No-Fault attendant care benefits. There is no simple computer calculation that says attendant care after an accident is $8 or $12 an hour. The reality is that most lawyers can easily recover two or three times the initial offer of attendant care to their clients. Again, all I can say is that insurance company claims adjusters don’t often have your best interests in mind, and it can never hurt you to ask for time to review an offer with an experienced attendant care attorney.

And greed applies to both sides. If an insurance company has made an initial offer, don’t let an attorney you talk to for advice or “free consultation” take one-third of a voluntarily offered benefit. That personal injury attorney should only be charging an attorney fee on benefits they can recover over and above the initial offer of attendant care from an auto insurance company.

4. Remain composed at all times during the conversation, and don’t put your feelings about the insurance company or the person who hit you on FaceBook!

Staying calm, and avoiding social media, will ensure that you do not say anything that will put you at a disadvantage during a trial or the settlement process.

Whether your injuries are minor or severe, there is no question that auto accident victims and their families undergo tremendous emotional and financial strain in the aftermath of a car crash. No matter how desperate you may feel after suffering the financial burden of medical bills, lost wages and disabling pain, at least consulting with an experienced auto accident attorney will ensure your legal rights are protected.

Steve Gursten is recognized as one of the nation’s top auto attorneys handling serious car and truck accident cases and insurance No-Fault litigation. Steve speaks and writes extensively on Michigan’s No-Fault law and insurance company abuse, and is available for comment.

Related information:

Top 10 Michigan auto accident guide

Help! My insurance company is sending me for an IME

Dealing with auto insurance companies in Michigan

Michigan Auto Law is the leading and largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state for more than 50 years. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights to better serve you. Call (248) 353-7575 for a free case evaluation with one of our No-Fault insurance lawyers.

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