Mistakes to Avoid when Negotiating Your Car Accident Settlement
A car accident insurance settlement depends highly on the spoken word, especially what is said, and not said, at the accident scene. A few unsolicited statements can end up costing you thousands of dollars in settlement money. When it comes to car accidents, the best negotiating advice is, "less is more."
What to Do at the Accident Scene
Car accidents are traumatic events. In these stressful situations, people often say stupid things. They admit fault, threaten to file lawsuits, verbally abuse the other driver, and worse. If you've been in an accident, stay calm and measure every word. What you say at the accident scene will become a part of your insurance claim.
Avoid Admissions Against Interest
Admissions against interest are unsolicited statements made by a claimant, which state he really wasn't hurt in the accident, or that it was his fault. Common admissions people make at accident scenes include:
- "I'm sorry. I didn't see you."
- "I was texting," or "I was on the phone."
- "I was talking with my passenger."
- "My tires are worn. I've been meaning to have them replaced."
- "I just looked down for a second to change the radio station."
- "I'm okay," or "I don't need the paramedics."
Refrain from making admissions like these after an accident. Then, you won't have to explain your way out of them when negotiating with the claims adjuster. Let the other driver do the talking, and make sure you write down any admissions the driver makes.
Advice for Speaking With the Adjuster
If you've decided to represent yourself in your accident claim, be prepared for a tough settlement process. Claims adjusters are trained to do everything possible to minimize settlement payouts. The insurance company's unoffical motto is, "pay as little as possible."
Your claim can be compromised with just a first few words of introduction with the adjuster. Take this common exchange, for example...
Adjuster: "Good morning Mr. Smith. How are you today?"
You: "Fine thanks, and you?"
You've just made your first admission against your own interest, by telling the adjuster you were "fine." This is why you must measure every word. Let the adjuster work her side of the claim. You'll have enough work to do with your own.
13 Mistakes to Avoid in Settlement Negotiations
In addition to refraining from admissions at the scene, there are other important rules to follow when beginning settlement negotiations. Violating these rules can result in irreversible damage to your claim.
Once you commit yourself to a fact or any small detail, you will be bound by that commitment. You can always add facts and information down the line. In insurance claims, saying too little can be a virtue.
Follow these tips when negotiating:
- Don't be too friendly with the adjuster. Be polite, but not deferential. You must go into settlement negotiations with a firm hand, believing your side of the claim is the truth. You don't want the adjuster to "handle" you. Set a strict business tone on your first contact, and suppress your instinct to be friendly.
- Don't agree to give your recorded statement. Unless you have an attorney present to advise you, it's not a good idea to give a recorded statement. Once you do, your claim will be confined to the parameters of that statement. The only one who can benefit is the insurance company.
- Don't be seduced by the adjuster. Adjusters are trained to engage claimants in informal discussions. They try to get you to relax, so you let your guard down. Being too relaxed makes it much easier for the adjuster to draw admissions from you. Be on your guard at all times.
- Don't editorialize or offer opinions. That may come later, but for now, just discuss the basic facts. Limit what you say to:
Don't lie. Avoiding mistruths is always good negotiating advice. Lying serves no purpose. If the adjuster catches you in a lie, no matter how small, you'll lose all credibility. From that point on, anything you say will be suspect.
Don't sign any medical releases, yet. Once you're nearing the end of your treatment, then you can sign releases to secure copies of your medical records. The adjuster doesn't need that information at the start. Save your doctor's office the hassle of dealing with the adjuster until your treatment is almost finished.
Don't give the adjuster your Social Security number. Having your Social Security number allows the adjuster to access a lot of personal information. Although technically prohibited, the adjuster can check your credit history or access other information she might be able to use as leverage.
Don't discuss any pre-existing injuries. You can really set back your claim by admitting you have a prior injury before getting your doctor's narrative. If you tell the adjuster about it, she'll say your latest injury is just an exacerbation of your previous one. You need a doctor to evaluate how one injury is related to the other.
Don't say, "I have whiplash." The term whiplash is a red flag for claims adjusters. Although whiplash can be very painful, don't mention it before you've been diagnosed by a physician. Adjusters sometimes even dispute medically-diagnosed whiplash, so claiming it without medical proof will all but ensure opposition.
Don't exaggerate. Claims adjusters hear all kinds of stories, and they can usually tell when someone is padding the truth. If you exaggerate at all, you'll have to remember it each time you speak with the adjuster. That's not only inappropriate, it's hard work! Tell the straight truth, it will speak for itself.
Don't give the adjuster names of family, friends, or work references. The adjuster doesn't need that information to settle a personal injury claim. You don't want her hassling your friends or family, or speaking with someone who might imply you're dishonest. Of course, contact information for witnesses is fair game.
Don't take for granted your claim will settle. Always keep in mind the possibility your case will proceed to trial. What you say now may have to be repeated on a witness stand, in front of a jury. Prepare your claim as if you may ultimately have to file a lawsuit.
Don't think you must have the answer to every question. If you don't know the answer to a question, admit you don't know or can't remember. You can always get the information later. It's much better to say you can't recall an important detail, than to give the wrong information. Remember to always negotiate from a position of strength.
- The location, date, and time of the collision
- Your name, address, phone number, and email
- The location of your car
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