When talking about personal injuries to the other party's insurance company, remember this rule: Be polite but say little.
Shortly after you've notified responsible parties that you've been injured in an accident and intend to file a claim for compensation, you're likely to hear from one or more insurance companies. These first conversations after your accident may be difficult, as you may be agitated or in pain, but common sense and a few guiding principles will keep you from saying anything that will adversely affect your insurance claim.
Before you discuss anything, get the person's name, address, and telephone number, the name of the insurance company, and the person or business the company represents. Record this information in a file.
Although you may well be angry about the accident and your injuries, taking out your anger on the insurance adjuster will not help you win compensation. Insurance adjusters are used to dealing with angry claimants, but they are human and do not respond kindly to abuse. It is a good idea to avoid losing your temper with or heaping abuse on the agent during your negotiation process. You might even be nice -- an insurance adjuster's good will toward you may pay off in promptly handling your claim or in believing you about something it is difficult for you to prove.
You need only tell the insurance adjuster your full name, address, and telephone number. At this point you need not explain or discuss any more than that about your work, your schedule, or your income, nor do you have to give detailed family or other personal information.
Note that these instructions apply to contact with another person's insurance company. When it comes to your own insurance company, you may be obligated by the rules of your policy to give your own insurance adjuster information about the accident. Be sure to read with care anything you're asked to sign, especially a release form that allows your insurer to gather information. For more about this, see How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by attorney Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).
Insurance adjusters or other representatives may try to get you to "give a statement" about how the accident happened -- or they may simply engage you in conversation, during which they will try more subtly to get you to tell them about the accident. Politely refuse any discussion of the facts of the accident except the most basic: where, when, the type of accident, and the vehicles involved if it was a traffic accident. Say that your investigation of the accident is still continuing and that you will discuss the facts further "at the appropriate time." Later, you will be making a written demand for compensation in which you will describe the accident in detail.
If an adjuster asks about witnesses and you know of some, respond that there "may be" witnesses and that you will let the insurance company know "at the appropriate time." Do not commit yourself to identifying witnesses or to providing witness statements. Also, if the adjuster does ask you about witnesses, ask the adjuster if he or she knows of any.
If adjusters or representatives ask about potential responsible parties other than you and their insured, give any basic identifying information you may have and a general description of how this other person was involved, but, again, do not discuss the accident in detail. Also, ask whether the adjuster is aware of anyone else who might be responsible for the accident.
Naturally enough, an insurance adjuster is going to want to know about your injuries. However, you should not give a detailed description yet, in case you leave something out or discover an injury later, or your injury turns out to be worse than you originally thought.
Later, when you know the true extent of your injuries and treatment, you will include a complete medical description of your injuries in your written demand for compensation. Until then, give only a general description of injuries ("I've hurt my knee and back" or "My wrist is broken and I have neck and back pain"), and tell the adjuster you do not yet know how severe your injuries are. Also tell the adjuster that you will be seeking or continuing medical treatment. You do not have to say what doctors or other medical providers you are seeing, and you should not yet give the adjuster their names and addresses.
Insurance adjusters sometimes try to offer a settlement during the first one or two phone calls. Such quick settlements save the insurance company work, and, more important, settling fast gets you to accept a small amount before you know fully what your injuries are and how much your claim is really worth. Don't do it. Agreeing may seem like a simple way to get compensation without having to go through the claims process, and a quick settlement is often tempting, but it will almost certainly cost you money, sometimes quite a lot.
In your first contact with an insurance adjuster, make it clear that you will not be discussing much on the phone. Not only should you give very limited information in this first phone call, as discussed above, but you should also set clear limits on any further phone contact.
Let the adjuster know that, until you have finished investigating the accident, have completed medical treatment, and have fully recovered from your injuries, you do not want to discuss any further either how the accident happened, what your injuries are, or what a settlement amount should be. Ask that the adjuster communicate with you in writing until you present your written demand for compensation and actual settlement negotiations begin.
In some situations, however, it may not be practical to stop all phone conversations. For example, if you have been in an auto accident, you may need to discuss repairs to your car. If you do need to speak to the adjuster again, set whatever limits you want on the place and times -- home or work, morning, evening, weekends -- for telephone contact.
There are good reasons to limit your phone conversations with insurance adjusters. Some will call frequently in an attempt to get you to settle quickly, and they can become a real nuisance. It's good to nip this in the bud.
More important, until you have had a full opportunity to investigate and think about the accident, and to determine the extent of and to recover from your injuries, you will not have accurate information to provide. And, if you give incomplete or inaccurate information on the phone, the insurance company may try to make you stick to it later on. Some insurance adjusters are good at getting you to say something which could be considered an admission of some fault on your part, or which limits the seriousness of your injuries. It is therefore much better to have no discussions at all until you have made your compensation demand in writing and you are fully prepared to discuss a settlement.
As soon as your conversation is over, write down all the information you received over the phone, as well as whatever information you gave to, or requests you made of, the person with whom you spoke. Get in the habit of note taking for all conversations with anyone from the insurance company.