In the hours after a car accident, or any kind of incident that causes you injury, your phone might start ringing, and the caller may well be an insurance adjuster or another representative of the other person involved involved in the accident. Let's look at what you should say (and what you should avoid discussing) during your first post-accident phone call with a representative of the other party—especially if you think that party is at fault for the accident.
Although you may still be angry about the accident and your injuries, taking out your anger on the insurance adjuster won't help you get a fair personal injury settlement. You may not know exactly how or when an insurance adjuster's good will may pay off—in promptly handling your claim, or in believing your version of an issue that's difficult to prove—so it's always best to keep your cool and stay professional.
Before you discuss anything, get the name, address, and telephone number of the person you are speaking with, the name of the insurance company he or she is with, and the person or business the company represents (the "insured").
You need only tell the insurance adjuster your full name, address, and telephone number. You can also tell them what type of work you do and where you are employed. But at this point you need not explain or discuss anything else about your work, your schedule, or your income.
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 subtly try to get you to tell them about the accident. Politely refuse to discuss any of the facts except the most basic: where, when, the type of accident, the vehicles involved if it was a traffic accident, and the identity of any witnesses. 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 probably be sending a personal injury demand letter in which you will describe the accident in detail.
Naturally enough, an insurance adjuster is going to want to know about the nature and extent of your injuries. Do not give a detailed description yet. You might leave something out, or discover an injury later, or your injury may turn out to be worse than you originally thought. If you need to say something, just tell the adjuster that you are "still treating," and leave it at that. Learn more about how your medical treatment affects the value of your personal injury case.
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.
Insurance adjusters sometimes offer a settlement during the first one or two phone calls. Quick settlements like that save the insurance company work. More important, they get you to settle for a small amount before you fully understand what your injuries are and how much your personal injury claim is worth. Don't take the bait. Collecting a settlement may seem like a quick way to get compensation without having to go through the claims process, and the money may be tempting, but it will almost certainly cost you money, perhaps quite a bit.
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.
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 your injuries and other losses (these are your "damages" in legalese), you will not have accurate information to give. And if you give incomplete or inaccurate information on the phone, the insurance company may try to make you stick to it later on.
Many claims adjusters immediately push you to give a tape-recorded statement, or casually ask if they may record your phone conversation, claiming it will protect you later. Do not agree to have any conversation recorded. You have no legal obligation to be recorded, and it is against the law for an adjuster to record you without your permission.
The reason you should refuse is that most people tense up when they know they are being recorded, and they may forget to say important things or could describe things clumsily or incompletely. A verbal statement or conversation is almost never as precise and thorough as the written correspondence you will later send the insurance company. Also, recordings take on far more importance than they deserve as evidence of what happened. It can be nearly impossible later to correct or expand on what you have said in a recording.
Politely but firmly decline an adjuster's request to record your statements. Tell him or her that you are not comfortable with recording, and that when your information is complete, you will provide it in writing.
For in-depth information on every stage in a personal injury case, get the book How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim (from which this article was adapted) by Attorney Joseph Matthews (Nolo).