This is a guest post, courtesy of Marc Yonker, a Managing Partner at Winters & Yonker, P.A.
When you are in an accident, dealing with the aftermath can be incredibly stressful. There are many decisions you have to make, and a long process to sort out the insurance claims and potential lawsuits. If you were injured, you also have to deal with everything while having to deal with recovering and paying medical bills.
Even if you weren’t injured, you have to deal with repair shops and estimates of your vehicle’s value, and with the insurance companies for the other parties involved. Through this process, you have a number of rights that an insurance company might not tell you but a lawyer will. Here is a quick guide on how a lawyer can help you know your rights dealing with a car accident.
When You Can Do Your Own Work (and What to Do)
When you are in an accident, there are some parts of the process that you can and should leave to your insurance representative. There are some decisions that are better left to you and your lawyer. It is important to know your rights and when you can push back against the recommendations of your insurance company, especially if they won’t tell you that you can. Here are some things your lawyer would advise you to do:
- Collect your own documentation—you do not have to rely on their investigation and documentation, take your own photos!
- Use your own repair shop—you do not have to use a mechanic the insurance company recommends
- Hire your own lawyer—your insurance company will not represent your legal rights or hire someone for you
- Get your own valuation—you can contest the insurance company’s assessment of your car’s value
It’s good to have your own information for any of these. That way you have documentation and second opinions on hand to know when you are being low-balled or given bad advice.
When to Speak To Insurance Representatives (and What to Say)
At some point you will speak with your insurance company, and the insurance companies for other parties might try contacting you as well. You do not have to interact with their insurance at all, and if they try to contact you, your lawyer will tell you as much.
They will also tell you that you do NOT have to make any official, recorded statement despite any pressure an insurance company might put on you to give one. Any information you give them in these statements can be used against you down the line. If you are called by an insurance company, here is what your lawyer would advise you to keep in mind:
- Refuse recorded statements—decline any official recorded statement over the phone by any insurance company
- Stick to basic facts—you can inform them you were in an accident but do NOT try to explain or offer any information about what happened
- Avoid discussing blame—do not claim any blame yourself for any small part of the accident
- Limit personal information—do not offer any information on your health as a result of the accident
That last point is especially important, so it is worth repeating. Do NOT share any medical information or give authorization for them to access your medical records, as some insurance companies will use it to dig into your complete health records. They might then try to deny your claim or give you less of a settlement on the basis of pre-existing injuries or health issues. You might get some pressure from a very pushy insurance representative, but a lawyer would tell you to absolutely not agree to it without consulting with them.
When to Make a Settlement (and What You Can Settle For)
A good lawyer will help you get the best possible settlement after your car accident. Settlements are always a balancing act between getting an award as soon as possible and holding out for a better offer in negotiations. A lawyer will know not to rush things, and how to wrap everything up as soon as possible without sacrificing anything from a settlement you should be able to get. Some insurance companies, especially the company for the other parties, might put pressure on you to settle NOW! Here is what your lawyer would tell you:
- Avoid quick offers—you need to wait to get a full picture of your long-term health to know what costs you can claim
- Keep your options open—do not agree to a settlement without a lawyer, as signing one agreement might revoke your rights to make a claim against other involved policies
- Negotiate—you do not have to agree to the first offer given by any insurance company even if they tell you otherwise
- Involve a lawyer—you always have the right to have a lawyer involved with negotiations even if you are told it is not necessary or allowed
Always avoid being pressured into making a fast settlement, or having to make a decision on the spot. A lawyer would be able to tell you that you don’t HAVE to accept the insurance company’s recommendation to write off your car as ‘totaled’, or that you can only claim what injuries you know of right now. You always have options and the ability to negotiate.
Marc Yonker is a personal injury attorney in Tampa, Florida. He has a great passion for serving the public and providing justice for those in need through his position at the winters and Yonker law firm. He believes that teamwork is a key element for great success. This is one of the beliefs that helped form the law firm, with his partner Bill Winters. When someone is wrongfully injured they deserve just compensation for the hardships they have been put through. Winters and Yonker helps clients in their fight for justice. They strictly handle personal injury cases which mostly comprises of auto accidents and slip and fall accidents, among many other types of vehicle related accidents, death cases and even electrocutions.