Motor Vehicle Accidents Information Center
How to Avoid Wrecking Your NJ Car Insurance Claim
Perhaps you've heard it said that regretting the past is nothing more than "herding cows". COWS. As in "Coulda, oughta, woulda and shoulda." We've all made decisions we wish we could take back and do over. Fortunately, most of these don't involve anything too serious and the consequences are usually something we can live with over time. However, some decisions lead to serious, if not catastrophic outcomes which leave long-lasting, perhaps even permanent marks on our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Unfortunately, as a lawyer, I see this play out all the time. Bad decisions are often made not because of bad intentions, but because of bad information. Or bad advice. Or, worse yet, both.
When you make an auto insurance claim, you must proceed with care if you hope to avoid a less than desirable (or awful!) outcome. Your actions or inaction may impact the amount of compensation or medical assistance you receive, or even whether you receive anything at all! As a personal injury attorney experienced in successfully representing clients in motor vehicle accident claims matters, I've learned there are certain things you need to keep in mind to increase your chances of getting the outcome you deserve after being injured in an automobile accident. These include:
- Be a Good Patient if You Need to Be! If you go to the emergency room or to a doctor, tell the truth but do not leave anything out - be complete. Many clients have told me something like this: "well, it was my back that really hurt; the neck was less painful, so I just asked for treatment to my back". Many times if there is a serious, obvious injury - like head trauma which may mean brain damage - or an obvious fracture - and that very obvious injury gets the attention and less obvious injuries get no mention in the records at all. It's important for the doctor to document his records regarding your injuries - his right to reimbursement by insurance is on the line, too - so tell him or her everything. It may well be that your doctor choses to treat one problem (usually the worst pain generator) at a time - this can happen when both your neck and back are injured - but the doctor still needs to document his records about your other problems. The lesson here: when in doubt, tell your doctor and get it documented. Insurance companies usually insist that if it's not in a medical record, it never happened.
- Review your insurance policies. Regardless of who is at fault for the accident, you may have to look to your carrier for some, if not all, of your recovery. For example, if the other driver was uninsured or underinsured, only your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage will save you. You really need legal advice on that. Remember what I said above about paying your medical bills? It's YOUR insurance carrier who pays, and you should present that claim for PIP (personal Injury Protection) benefits properly. Get a full explanation of this issue - what we call no-fault insurance - from a good attorney who handles auto accident cases all the time.
- Inform your insurance carrier as soon as possible after the accident. Failing to do so may create problems for you down the road, especially if your credibility regarding some of the facts surrounding the accident comes into question. Any delay by you in reporting the accident could be construed as an attempt to hide something and an indicator that you may have been at fault or more at fault than you claim. And always tell your carrier the truth. Don't hesitate to talk to an attorney before calling your insurance carrier, but do it right away.
- Lights, camera, action. If you are physically able, take pictures and extensively detail everything you can think/remember/observe about the accident, the scene of the accident, the weather and road conditions, witnesses names and phone numbers, what the other driver was doing (texting, anyone?), etc.
- Take notes. Of everything. Conversations with police, insurance investigators, adjusters, anyone with whom you speak about the MVA. Names, phone numbers, time, date, job titles, supervisors, the works. The more details you record in real time, the less recollection you’ll be required to try to cobble together from memory (e.g., a sequence of events or what exactly was said during a conversation). Again, if your credibility comes into question at any time, this detailed information will prove invaluable to your efforts (and those of your attorney).
- Keep records of receipts for any and all expenses you’ve incurred for car rental, medical expenses and other purchases necessitated by the accident.
- "The facts ma’am, just the facts". When your insurance company contacts you for clarification or additional information about facts relating to the accident, answer only the question that is asked of you. Don’t volunteer anything extra. Should you believe that an explanation or amplification of an answer is required, advise your attorney so that he can determine the best way to convey that information. Remember, there is never a reason to talk to the other driver's insurance company, EXCEPT if the volunteer to - and you want them to - pay for your collision damage. Then you talk ONLY about the damage to your car. No recorded statements, no discussions of your injuries.
- Do. Not. Admit. Fault. Ever. New Jersey is a comparative negligence state which simply means that if at least some fault is attributable to both parties but you are less at fault, your recovery will be reduced by the percentage you are deemed to have contributed to the MVA. It’s not your responsibility to carry out that assessment, nor are you qualified to do so, even if you are sure you caused the accident. If you tell the other driver or the police you caused the accident, that’s called an "admission against interest" which can and certainly will be used against you later. Who is at fault should be clear enough to experienced claims people and attorneys.
- Do not give an insurance company a recorded or written statement until you’ve obtained legal advice as to your rights, responsibilities and the extent of your insurance coverage. See above.
- Don’t settle for less. Good advice for relationships, it’s even better advice if you’re injured in a motor vehicle accident. As we mentioned, an insurance company is going to protect its bottom line so any estimates it provides you regarding losses and/or damages may not be fair. Again, this is where I can help because it's what I do.
- Don’t sign a release/accept an offer of settlement without legal advice. This really goes without saying, doesn’t it? Every now and then I do advise a caller to take what's been offered. But not often. Usually, frankly, the insurance carrier will delay and demand all kinds of records before they make an offer. Never sign a medical records release for someone else's insurance company (you have to for your own) and never sign a wage information release (again, if you claim lost wages, you have to for your own insurer).
- "I’m okay, you’re okay". Not always! Don’t try to comfort the other driver (or yourself, for that matter) by trying to convince everyone you’re okay. You may not think you’ve been injured, but you might not discover the full extent of your injuries until days or sometimes even weeks after the day of accident. It's hard to recover for an injury you once claimed didn't exist. I can't tell you how many times a client has said "I was shaken up, but I thought I was fine - when I woke up the next day I could hardly move." Your body protects itself from the trauma of an accident - this is medically proven - but if you are injured, it will catch up to you. Many times you are offered an ambulance at the scene of an accident. If you don't want to go to the hospital, I would counsel saying something like "No thanks, I'll see how I feel and talk to my doctor if I need to."
- Get a Legal Opinion from An Attorney With Experience.
A motor vehicle accident is traumatic enough without an insurance company insinuating that you're lying about an injury which surfaces the next day. I counsel clients to always be truthful - it's still the best policy. It's too bad all insurance companies do not see it that way. Many, unfortunately, will lump you in with what they perceive to be fradulent claims (and truth be told, they are out there) without any knowledge at all about you, your claim, or the facts. At my office, we stick with the facts and we won't be shaken.
To learn your rights and responsibilities in plain English, call for a free consultation. There is no fee if there is no recovery. 888-233-1272. Or email me at Frank@FrankSmithLaw.com .
NJ Motor Vehicle Accident Information Center
- 10 of the Most Common Causes of NJ Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Compensation for NJ Car Accident Personal Injury Claims
- How to Avoid Wrecking Your NJ Car Insurance Claims
- NJ Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists
- New Jersey No-Fault Insurance Explained
- Car Accident Checklist - What to do After a NJ Car Accident
- Motor Vehicle Accident Frequently Asked Questions