Negotiating the Insurance Claims Process After a Car Crash
Posted on July 27th, 2022 by Zane Cagle
While the statistical odds are almost certain that you will be in some kind of motor vehicle crash sometime in your lifetime, few people actually knows steps to follow. When I say we will all be in a crash, you are probably thinking that you have already. If you think about the grocery store door-dings or all the minor property damage issues, it has probably already happened to most of you.
Serious injury car crashes happen more than they should and can be life-changing. Car crash injuries fall somewhere between no injury and catastrophic injury. There are many levels of injury between the two extremes, but many crash injuries can require weeks, months or years of medical treatment.
Personally, if I am in a crash that requires months of medical treatment, it seems pretty serious to me. My clients who sustain injuries that require months or years of treatment tend to agree with me.
Types of Claims
There are two types of insurance claims that you can potentially make after a car crash depending on the facts of the crash. The two types of claims include a property damage claim and a personal injury claim—-commonly referred to “injury claim” by the insurance adjuster. The property damage claim includes your vehicle. As well, if you had child safety seats in the vehicle, they will have to be replaced. Once a child safety seat has been in a collision, they are no longer safe for use.
An injury claim is very different than a property claim. Again, vehicles are worth a certain amount and that number remains consistent, meaning your vehicle will not “heal”. An injury claim is completely separate from your property damage claim. You should not discuss anything about your injury for several weeks. Meaning, you don’t make both claims at the same time. You simply let the insurance company know that you “are hurt and are seeking medical treatment“. If you are not injured, then the property claim is all you have to deal with.
The vast majority of folks injured in a motor vehicle crash have absolutely no idea how they will recover. Doctors in the ER may not initially predict the extent of your injury or know for sure how you will recover, so how would you? Thus, discussing any of your medical treatment or diagnosis with an insurance adjuster in the first few days after a crash is a mistake. Your injury claim may include medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering–all of which take some time to accumulate and evaluate.
If all you have is property damage, simply call your auto insurance company and make a claim.
Often people want to avoid making a claim to their insurance company and only want to contact the other driver’s insurance company (if it is two-car crash). Many assume their rates will go up if they make a claim. They are not wrong. You are supposed to notify your insurance carrier if you are in a crash. It is highly unlikely you can keep it a secret from your insurance carrier as the other driver will probably make a claim against your coverage. As well, many insurance carriers run your driving record and reported crashes yearly–it’s really difficult to hide if from your insurance carrier. Purposely lying to the insurance carrier can get you into fraud issues, so we don’t recommend it.
Your premium rates may go up simply because you were in a crash and may have nothing to do with fault. Thus, if you have the coverage, make the claim rather than playing games you usually cannot win. Rather than relying on the defendant’s insurance cooperation, file your claim so the defendant’s insurance carrier cannot hold you hostage, so to speak. Often times you are subject to the defendant’s insurance carrier when it comes to car repairs and replacement–it can take weeks or months. Either way, you should know your rights and not blindly go with the insurance adjuster’s advice.
A property damage claim and an injury claim are two different claims and you should not resolve them together.
Importance of Having Insurance and Differences in Coverage
The last thing that we do at our firm is sell insurance. In fact, the greatest bulk of our time is spent fighting with insurance companies of at-fault drivers. Daily, we fight insurance companies to pay the compensation owed to injured parties. It is too common that many people have no idea how much coverage they actually have. Everyone that has ever bought a car or licensed one knows that they are legally required to have auto insurance. Most people know the terms “full coverage” verses “liability”. We have that conversation daily with potential clients. It is grim when you discover you have inadequate insurance AFTER the car collision. No one reads insurance policies for fun. Below are the common terms used and what they mean:
Liability-keeps you legal only. So many people drop their insurance coverage to “liability only” when the vehicle is paid for and then are devastated when they discover their insurance carrier will not cover the repairs after a collision. The phrase is literal–liability only. “Liability only” means if the crash is your fault and you damage another car or person, then your insurance company will cover the other party’s vehicle, but not yours. If you are at fault or it is single-car crash, your insurance company will not cover your car.
Full coverage–only insurance sales people use the term “full coverage”. It can mean a lot of different things and the term alone does not tell you how much coverage you have. The only thing that “full coverage” does mean is that with full coverage, your auto insurance carrier will cover your car damage whether the crash was a single-vehicle crash, or a multi-vehicle crash that may have been your fault. Full coverage can mean anything regarding policy limits of $25,000 to over a million.
One thing to remember–if you are upside down in your vehicle which many people are, the auto insurance will usually only pay the fair market value. They determine the fair market value usually according to the Kelly Blue Book. So, if you owe $10,000 on a car that is totaled but the market value is only $6,000, you are eating $4,000. If you are still paying on your car, you may want to look at gap insurance.
We also offer some quick question/answer regarding some common questions after a car crash. Often those quick answers prompt more questions, so we recommend calling us to give us the complete information to better advise you.
Both of these terms have only been used regarding PROPERTY DAMAGE. If you are hurt, then things move differently.
Injuries from Car Crashes
If you are injured in a motor vehicle crash, then there are specific steps you definitely need to adhere. Involving your auto insurance early in your injury claim is a MISTAKE. For example, you do not know the extent of your injuries or how you will recover in the first days and weeks after a motor vehicle collision. When you go to the Emergency Room, they rule out broken bones, internal bleeding and severe brain injuries. However, those injured in motor vehicle crashes most often have to follow up with primary care doctors who implement a treatment plan that may involve physical therapy and specialists if needed. Injuries from car crashes can involve every part of the body. Broken bones are the most obvious. Often there are various kinds of spinal injuries beyond broken bones. The point being–you just don’t know the extent of your injuries for awhile so it really premature to discuss your injuries or prognosis with any auto insurance carrier.
Discussing the injuries with the insurance adjuster will not help your claim. I know, most people think that if they are really honest, transparent and open with the adjuster, then the adjuster will be real open, transparent and fair with you. It would be great if it worked that way.
Hurt?–Seek a Legal Consultation
Not every person involved in a car crash needs a lawyer. I will tell you this–it is better to know how the process works and your rights BEFORE you start talking to the insurance company. We can be far more helpful at the beginning of a claim. When you are injured in a motor vehicle crash, we advise that you think about the “worst/best case scenario”. The best case scenario is that you just feel better within 2-3 days of visiting the ER and really are not too hurt. Again, best case scenario which always depends on your injuries. Worst case scenario–you require a surgery or multiple surgeries and face possible permanent damage. It is amazing how quickly you might think you just have neck strain can turn into a damaged disc and possible surgical situation.
Personal injury attorneys offer free consultations. Even if we are not needed to pursue your case, we are delighted to share information so that you can avoid the most common mistakes.
Normal people cringe at the thought of a spine injury–I do. Spinal cord injuries impact your entire body and are extremely painful. A lot of times when people think of a spine injury, they think catastrophic scenarios such as paralysis. However, there are about 18,000 new spine injury cases per year that are not paralysis. And, those are the ones that are diagnosed. There are many people that are hurt and have pain but don’t actually get a thorough workup to find out exactly what their spine injury is. Back injuries and neck injuries are often referred to as strain/sprain and a lot of times people do not go through the evaluative process of seeing a specialist to find out exactly what is causing their back pain. One of the many common causes of spine injures is trauma. Trauma is most frequently associated with motor vehicle collisions.
Consultations are Always Free
Most car crash attorneys offer free evaluations. Not everyone that calls needs a lawyer, but we are certainly happy to give you free information to help you navigate the process.