[John J. Scura III, Esq. explains what to do if you are feeling tricked by your insurance company after an accident in New Jersey]
I wrote a blog on the worst tricks insurance companies use in trying to deny people fair money for their claims after an accident. As a follow up, I wanted to explore what to do if insurance companies use one of these tricks on you and how to best protect yourself going forward:
Here's What to Do if You are Tricked by an Insurance Company:
Insurance Company Obtained an Incorrect Statement Immediately After an Accident
Insurance companies attempt to call you immediately after an accident in order to obtain a statement. You are not in the best condition to give a statement or make rational decisions. Many times during an initial contact they tape the conversation.
If you think you have given an incorrect statement, consult with an attorney and demand copies of any statements. With the attorney’s input as soon as possible provide a statement correcting any inaccuracies or mistakes. The earlier on this corrected statement is given the better. It is always best that you at least speak to an attorney before giving any statements, but sometimes it does not happen in this order.
Insurance Company Blamed Fault on You for an Accident
Immediately, try to preserve or collect as much evidence as possible when involved in the accident. Today, with cell phones it is easy to take pictures and videos after an incident of such things as the accident scene, damage to automobiles, physical evidence of injuries, defective property conditions that may have caused a fall or a defective product that may have caused an injury of loss. If there are any witnesses try to obtain names, addresses and cell phone numbers of any people that saw or have some knowledge of the incident. Consult with an attorney as soon as possible so that the attorney can assist in collecting evidence and perhaps hire a private investigator to assist in that process.
It is important to collect evidence to disprove that you had any fault in the occurrence of the accident. In New Jersey, your award is reduced by your percentage of fault or you get nothing if it is determined that you are more than 50% at fault. By way of illustration, if your total damages are $100,000 and the insurance company can prove you were 20% at fault for the happening of the accident, then you will only receive $80,000. Worse yet, in New Jersey if the insurance company can show you were 51% at fault or more for the accident you receive nothing.
Insurance Company is Doing Anything and Everything to Delay Payment of Your Claim
The one way that gets the insurance company’s attention quickly if it is delaying payment of your claim is to file a lawsuit. The insurance companies play the delay game all of the time because so long as the money is in their hands and not yours they make more money. Insurance companies will say they are processing your claim or they need more information or they do not have all of the medical information to evaluate your case. The excuses are endless and the delay for far too long. Many times after all these delays, they will make an offer that barely covers your health care costs. Watch out for these delays. Once you file a lawsuit, however, the insurance company cannot delay any longer. The insurance company then has to hire an attorney to defend the suit and will have to respond.
The quicker the suit is filed, the quicker the case will get to trial with a jury hopefully telling the insurance company what they are going to pay if you are successful. Every case is different and there may be reasons to delay filing suit, such as you are still treating for your injuries and the nature and extent of your injuries is not known. Thus, there may be strategic reasons to delay filing a lawsuit. However, if it appears that there is no reason to delay filing a suit for your injuries and the insurance company is engaging in delay tactics, then filing a lawsuit is the only way to force the insurance company to act quicker and to provide you with fair compensation for your harms and losses.
Insurance Company Tricked You Into Signing a Medical Authorization or Release of Claim
Probably the worst trick insurance companies engage in is getting you to sign a release in favor of the person or company they insure before you speak to an attorney. There are legal grounds to get out of the release if it can be proven that the release was fraudulently obtained, especially where the person signed the release without an attorney. It is difficult, however, to get out of the release so always consult with an attorney before signing anything an insurance company puts in front of you.
To provide an example of a specific case, I have a client where the insurance company had my client sign a release almost right after the accident. She was under the impression, because the insurance representative led her to believe so, that the payment was only for ongoing medical expenses and she could receive more later. Yet, the release they had her sign gave the insurance company a release for all her claims. Our firm was able to get the release undone and she then obtained the full policy limits of $100,000 for her serious back injuries.
Insurance Company Used Computer Programs and Algorithms that Do Not Place Fair Values on Your Injury
Many insurance companies use computer programs and algorithms that put low numbers on injuries in evaluating what to pay. For example, Colossus is a computer program that large insurance companies use to estimate the value of claims. Colossus places heavy emphasis on numerous factors that negatively impact a claim and lower the value placed on a person’s injuries. One of the major flaws of Colossus is that the insurance company employees and adjusters input the information that the program uses to value personal injury claims. Colossus does not consider the full nature and extent of a person’s harms and losses. Rather, it goes by data provided by insurance company employees and the numbers are always lower than fair value.
Of course, there is evidence you can present that counters the data used by the insurance companies to evaluate claims. Most important, regardless of the ridiculous low offers that are generated by these computer programs, you can always file suit and force the insurance companies into reasonable settlement offers.
You Were Convinced by the Insurance Company Into a Fast Settlement with a Low Offer
Unfortunately, many times after an accident you are in need of money desperately. Insurance companies know this all too well and will try to low ball you and get you to accept much less than your full claim is worth. At a minimum, you should consult with an attorney to see if the offer is in a fair range or too low. Please keep in mind that most personal injury attorneys will provide a free consultation, so why not take advantage and see if the insurance company is giving you a fair offer or a ridiculously low offer.
Insurance Company Tried to Keep You from Hiring a Lawyer
Insurance companies never want you to get an experienced personal injury trial lawyer involved. You have the absolute right to an attorney. They want to deal with you without an attorney. The earlier the lawyer gets involved the better. The lawyer will protect you against giving improper statements, while gathering evidence early on and preparing the case for trial if necessary. In New Jersey, it is always of the most benefit for an injured person to consult with an attorney Certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Certified Civil Trial Attorney. Once again, please keep in mind that most personal injury attorneys will provide a free consultation, so at least see if you have a meaningful case before making any bad decisions.
Insurance Company Did Not Explain All Coverage Available
You have to make sure you understand all insurance coverage that is available to cover your claims. Many times accidents involve different available insurance and it is confusing even to experienced attorneys. An insurance company is certainly not going to explain, without a lawsuit or lawyer involved, all the insurance coverages available to cover your claim. In New Jersey an insurance company does not have to tell you the available insurance limits unless a lawsuit is filed and usually will not voluntarily provide that information. With auto accidents what consumers do not fully understand is that they can pursue the person causing the accident as well as their own insurance if there is not enough insurance to cover their injuries.
For example, you may have underinsured motorist coverage under your own insurance policy or have access to it by virtue of the car you are in during an accident. Without a lawyer explaining and exploring these insurance coverages you may miss out on a recovery of this money for your harms and losses resulting from an accident.
If you have a question about an accident or insurance company tactics, please call a New Jersey personal injury lawyer in one of our New Jersey offices in Passaic, Hudson, Essex or Bergen County. Our experienced team may be able to help even if you were tricked by your insurance company after an accident.