By :Douglas A. Petho
Everyone knows what to do when involved in an automobile accident right? You are supposed to immediately call the police, determine whether anyone was injured, get contact information from any eyewitnesses, etc. But there some things that are just important not to do following an accident. Here are a few of the most common mistakes people make that may get them into trouble down the road.
Do not give a recorded statement to an insurance company unless you have a legal obligation to do so!
When a claim is reported to the liability insurance company and adjuster is assigned to investigate the claim. One of the first things and adjuster will want to do is to get recorded statements from the drivers involved. While a insured has a obligation to provide a statement to their own insurance company and assist in the investigation, there is no such duty to cooperate with a liability insurance company for the other party. Many people assume that since they are making a claim, it is necessary to give a statement to a liability adjuster and if the accident is “clearly not their fault” giving a statement will expedite the handling of their claim. The problem is there may be two or more versions of how accident occurred.
In North Carolina the doctrine of contributory negligence provides that if any party is negligent in any degree in bringing about their own injuries they are completely barred from recovery from the other party. Insurance adjusters know this and will look for any evidence negligence on the part of the claimant to deny the claim. The best way to do this is by using the claimant’s own words in their recorded statement. Many people are poor judges of time and distance when it comes to automobile accidents. People say minutes when they mean seconds and feet when they mean yards. years I have seen These types of “verbal missteps” cost people their claims time and time again.
If some type of statement is absolutely necessary to move the claim forward, then a written statement is the best option. Written questions can be prepared by the insurance adjuster investigating the claim and answered after careful consideration by the claimant. In the alternative, the claimant can provide a brief narrative of how the accident occurred.
Don’t refuse to provide health insurance information to your medical providers!
Anyone who has been admitted to a hospital knows that one of the first items of business is determining who will be responsible for the bill. Some people believe that because they are involved in an accident that their medical provider should not utilize their health insurance. While it is true that a liability insurance company may ultimately be liable for any medical expenses, even the most straightforward claims take time. A liability claim should generally not be settled prior to the claimant receiving all the treatment they need. Most medical providers will not wait till a claim is resolved to get paid and will put any outstanding bills into collections. While recent changes in North Carolina law allow the liability insurance company to take credit for any discounts or write offs provided to a claimant by their own health insurance, I believe the better practice is to file all medical bills with health insurance to avoid collections.
Never sign a scheduled release! EVER!
A scheduled release is a release that is offered to a claimant very early, within days sometimes,of a claim. It offers the claimant in a small sum of money upfront along with a promise by the liability insurance company to pay reasonable and necessary medical bills up to a certain limit for certain time following an accident. A few insurance companies over the years have made it their mission to get these releases signed within the first 48 hours of an accident. I know of a few instances they have been offered to clients while still in the hospital.
The reason these scheduled releases are such a bad idea is that shortly after an accident the claimant may not know the full extent their injuries. MRIs, CT scans and other diagnostic tests are often delayed by medical providers until it is determined they are necessary when their patients do not improve over time. Arbitrarily capping the amount of medical expenses that the insurance carrier could be liable only benefits the insurance company. In addition, the scheduled release usually agrees only to pay “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses incurred after an accident. I put the words reasonable and necessary and quotations because what is reasonable and what is necessary is often a matter of dispute between claimants and insurance companies. By signing a scheduled release in advance, the only compensation in dispute would be is what is reasonable and necessary medical care. It will be nearly impossible to find an attorney file a case on a contingency fee where the only dispute is the amount of proper medical bills. By signing the release you have eliminated the possibility of receiving compensation for additional pain and suffering, lost wages or other damages if they become due.
Don’t just exchange information and leave the scene!
This is my favorite mistake. We all want to believe that everyone is honest and will do the right thing. Perhaps because we only get the phone calls from the people who had the bad experiences that this is included on the list. But there are plenty of reasons to call the police and report the accident. Once you have driven away from the scene of an accident with only a piece of paper and name phone number and insurance company policy number a variety of bad things can happen. Here is a compilation of the things I’ve heard: wrong name, bad phone number, insurance canceled, “I’ve thought about it in the accident isn’t my fault”, “the driver didn’t have permission to drive my car”,”go to my body shop and they’ll fix it and send me the bill and I’ll pay it”, “I wasn’t hurt so how could you be?” Bottom line, if you believe the other driver is responsible for either injury or damage to your vehicle, call the police.