Dealing with Insurance Companies

Reviewed by David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
Before you make any kind of insurance claim -- and certainly before you talk with an adjuster -- here's what you need to know.

Let’s face it, no one wants to have an automobile accident, a house fire, or to get injured on someone else’s property. But these things happen, and when they do you usually have to deal with an insurance adjuster (someone from your own insurance company, or from the other party's insurer). In this article, we'll discuss some of the best strategies for dealing with any insurance company as part of the claim process.

Gather Information and Evidence

First, before you ever talk to the insurance company, you need to make sure you’re going to have all the information you need. When an accident or injury does happen, document everything (and after a car accident, call the police to the scene).

Make sure you get the name, address, phone number and insurance information of everyone involved. Get any witnesses’ names, addresses and telephone numbers too. Take out your cell phone and start taking pictures of everything that might be relevant, from different angles, paying particular attention to any physical damage, any injuries, and the general scene. Exchange information with anyone involved, but do not engage in long conversations, get upset, or place blame. Be respectful and forthcoming to any law enforcement officer or emergency medical worker, and again, stick to what happened and do not offer detailed explanations.

Reporting the Incident

Next, call your insurance company and report the accident or incident. Your insurance requires you to timely report any incident that could trigger coverage, so make sure you do this as soon as you are able to. Again, be honest, relay all the information you gathered at the scene, and do not engage in long, needless conversations. You want the insurance company to know what happened, but you also want to protect your interests in the long run.

Watch What You Say

Whenever you speak to anyone involved in the accident or incident, create a log. Note the date, time, person you spoke to, the gist of what was said, and by whom. This may seem like overkill, but in the end, it could really help you. Remember, the insurance adjuster you are talking to is keeping a log, shouldn’t you? In any conversation, make sure you only answer the question asked, only answer if you understand the question posed, and keep it short and sweet.

Get Medical Care, and Follow Up With Your Doctors

If you are injured, make sure you seek medical treatment as soon as possible. If you wait days or even weeks to seek medical attention, an insurance company may try to argue that you were not seriously injured.

You also want to get copies of all your medical records yourself, rather than give the insurance company a "blank" medical records release authorization form. This could allow the insurance company to get access to medical records that aren't relevant to your claim. You can usually ask the doctor’s office, they'll have you sign a release form, and then they'll mail you the records. If the insurance company points to exact language in your policy requiring you to give a medical authorization, give it only for the doctors treating you for the accident or incident, and limit the dates (from the accident to the present time).

Don't Settle Too Early

Whatever you do, do not accept a quick settlement. You may think that your injuries are minor at the time, and months later they are still lingering and you are still seeking treatment. If you accepted a settlement and signed a release of your claim, you won’t be able to come back later and get additional money, even if your injuries or damages are much more serious than you first thought. (Learn more about personal injury settlements.)

Even if you are better after a couple of weeks, there are many factors to consider before you accept a settlement. You may have missed work, and will need to document that and consider the cost to you and your family. You may have additional damages, or require more expensive repairs to your home or vehicle than were first apparent. In almost every circumstance, that quick check will benefit the insurance company more than it will you. The insurance adjuster’s job is to settle cases for the least amount of money possible and save the insurance company money.

Talk to an Attorney

Finally, if you are seriously injured, or have significant property damage, or you are having problems resolving an issue with an insurance company, it may be time to consult a lawyer. Discuss your situation, learn about your options, and make sure your rights are protected.

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