Read about these common insurance company tactics
Most people think they will be treated fairly by their auto insurance company. But this doesn’t happen as much as we might want, despite the insurance industry spending hundreds of millions of dollars on television commercials.
In fact, thanks to an array of insurance company tactics designed to keep money in the insurance industry’s pocket at the expense of your own, people need to be cautious and not automatically accept what a claims adjuster says after an automobile accident.
In states without strong bad faith laws or consumer protection laws, an insurance adjuster can even lie to an insured person about what benefits they are entitled to – and get away with it.
Below are five common insurance company tactics to keep in mind after a car accident:
1. Delay: Time is NOT on your side. Many states have very strict statute of limitations periods for car accidents. For example, Michigan has a one-year deadline from the date of the accident to file an application for your No Fault insurance benefits. These No Fault (PIP) benefits can include lost wages, lifetime medical care, help with household duties and child care and in-home nursing care (also known as attendant care).
There is a similar very strict one-year statute of limitations from the date an expense is incurred to be reimbursed from the insurance company. But claims adjusters often deliberately delay the reimbursement process, claiming they need more information to investigate, or that letters and supporting documents are “lost.” But if a lawsuit isn’t filed to stop the one-year countdown, you lose the ability to be reimbursed for your auto accident-related medical bills, or receive any of your other No Fault benefits.
Some states, such as Tennessee, have a similar one-year statute of limitations to sue for injuries and pain and suffering after a car accident. Lawyers from around the country have had to notify their legal malpractice carriers based upon mistakes they’ve made in states like Tennessee and Michigan.Don’t be one of them.
And if you are a consumer, the best advice I can ever give is to verify what the adjuster is saying to you with an experienced lawyer to make sure you are getting everything you are entitled.
2. The adjuster shuffle: It’s not a dance, it’s when your claims file gets “re-assigned” very close to the one year deadline to file for your No Fault insurance benefits. Sometimes the “new” adjuster says she needs more time, or she is waiting for the file to be transferred, or that documents have been “misplaced.” Again, this is often nothing more than a stall tactic. The adjusters are counting the days until you lose all right to reimbursement or compensation. Don’t fall victim to the adjuster shuffle!
3. Attempting to settle your injury case: Many insurance claims adjusters, especially on the pain and suffering side, will try to talk to you shortly after an auto accident and offer you very small amounts of money to settle your case. Many people are still in shock and unable to think clearly about their legal rights, or have yet to fully understand how bad the injuries will turn out to be. These adjusters will call you and ring your door bell and visit you in hospital rooms, trying to get you to settle your case for what can often be pennies on the dollar.
When you have suffered any injury, you almost always will be entitled to far more for your pain and suffering and your medical benefits than what the insurance company is trying to get you to sign away in the days or weeks after a car accident.
Am I biased because I am an injury lawyer? According to the insurance industry’s own study, a claimant (insurance industry speak for a person) injured in an auto accident receives on average four times more money than a claimant who is not represented by a lawyer.
When I was President of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyer Litigation Group, I remember an example where an adjuster for a trucking company that had negligently killed someone then attempted to “settle” the case by buying the family members a new Buick. You can’t make this stuff up. Just be careful out there. No insurance company rings your doorbell and tries to give away its own money – unless it clearly feels it is in its own economic self-interest to do so.
4. Asking questions and recording you: Often, “examinations under oath (EUOs)” are used by defense attorneys to take advantage of someone who does not have a lawyer. In this situation, questions are asked that have no relevance to the claim at hand. The real reason for these interviews is to tank the potential third-party tort lawsuit by asking lots of liability questions about how the accident happened while someone is still unrepresented and without a lawyer to defend and protect them.
Because EUOs are recorded, they can be used against you in any case, even a completely different case by another insurance company. Please, never give a recorded statement to anyone, including your own insurance company, without contacting an experienced accident attorney first.
5. Sign here: Many auto accident victims rush into signing insurance adjusters’ documents without having the release language reviewed by an experienced car accident lawyer. In doing so, they may lose their rights to sue a negligent driver for accident-related injuries, or to receive critical No-Fault insurance benefits from their own insurance company.
For example, in one of our own cases, Dairyland Insurance Company had my unknowing (and unrepresented at that time) client’s sign total releases of all claims within one week of the automobile accident.
If a claims adjuster wants you to sign a release or contract or other important document right away, tell the adjuster that you need to review the paperwork with a lawyer first.
Remember, most injury lawyers will not charge for an initial consultation. Many lawyers will also offer free legal advice, or can give you valuable books that explain what compensation you’re entitled. It can’t hurt to have your questions answered by an attorney and learn about how to protect yourself against these dangerous auto insurance company tactics.
Next week, I will write more about why you should never accept the first settlement offer from your auto insurance company.