Insurance Claims: How to Open One, and How NOT to Open One
Opening Your Claim.
This morning, you were on your way to work when another driver rear-ended you at a stoplight. It was only a minor wreck, and you went on to the office afterward, but after a few hours you started dealing with some stiffness in your neck and back. Correctly concluding that safe is better than sorry, you figure that it might be a good idea to go ahead and open a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company.
But now, sitting at your desk with the phone in your hand, you begin to wonder; how does one go about opening a claim, anyway? What are you supposed to say? More importantly, is there anything you shouldn't say?
Well, it turns out that your concerns are somewhat well-founded. The claim-opening process is ripe with opportunities for the insurance company to shoot holes in your case. So ripe, in fact, that it's become common practice for adjusters to reach out to injured parties before the claim is opened, asking for information they aren't entitled to or even offering injured folks a few hundred bucks in hopes of nipping a potentially valuable claim in the bud.
So with that said, it's very important that you have a strategy in place before you make that first call to open your claim. Here's a few things to remember when you're opening a new claim:
1. Get the necessary information together first.
In North Carolina, it's common practice for a police officer responding to an accident to put together a Driver's Information Exchange Form, including each party's name, address, and insurance information. Make sure that you have that form in front of you; especially the at-fault party's name and insurance policy number. If the crash report has been published, you'll need that too, though that will normally take a few days after the accident. If you have the carrier, policy number, and contact information, the process will be much faster and smoother.
2. Put bullet points together.
The insurance representative opening the claim for you will have a lot of questions about how the accident happened, what you were doing at the time, and what you did afterward. The important thing for you to remember is that the more detail you give the insurance company, the more opportunity they'll have to poke holes in your account. So it stands to reason that you need to write down the highlights of what happened before you pick up the phone. For instance:
- I stopped at the red light.
- I was waiting for the light to turn green.
- Your insured hit me.
Don't let the insurance company elicit any more detail than that; stick to the bullet points, and you'll be fine.
3. If you don't know the answer, say so. Don't guess.
The person opening the claim may ask for details that you don't know or don't remember. If that happens, don't guess and don't try to tell them what they want to hear. If you're guessing, you're giving the insurance companies extra opportunities to poke holes or to catch you in a contradiction, and the more that happens, the likelier it is that you'll run into complications with your claim down the road.
4. Don't give any recorded statements.
It has unfortunately become very common for adjusters and other insurance representatives to unilaterally request recorded statements from injured claimants. These statements generally take the form of an interview, wherein the interviewer will try to elicit as much detail as possible from the injured party. The thing to keep in mind with recorded statements is that if you're dealing with another person's insurance company, you do not have to agree to give a statement. It's a near-certainty that agreeing to give a recorded statement will harm your claim.
5. Don't sign anything!
It's also commonplace for insurance companies to casually request certain documents, most often signed medical release forms, from injured claimants. Two things here; first, again, you are not under any obligation to sign anything, and you shouldn't. Second, if you do sign a medical release, the insurance company is going to use that release to dig through your medical records, possibly over a matter of years before the accident occurred, looking for any information that could damage your claim. The better move is to collect your own bills and records, review them carefully, and then turn over whatever information is directly relevant to your claim.
Opening your claim is the first meaningful step you'll take toward being compensated, but it's crucial to do so carefully and without giving too much information away. If you have any questions, give us a call.