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DOWNEY - It's common to be involved in a car accident that wasn't your fault. A few days after the accident, the adjuster for the insurance company of the person who hit you will call you on the phone. The insurance company will ask you to give a recorded statement, stating how the accident happened, and request that you provide them some personal information.
They say they want to assist you in processing your claim, and that all they need before they are able to pay you is this brief statement. You have nothing to hide and want to be helpful. So what could be wrong with answering the questions posed by the insurance company on tape?
Many lawyers' policy is to not allow any of their clients to give a recorded statement. Others do not care. I believe you should not give one at all unless it is agreed in advance with the insurance company that the statement is for settlement purposes only, and that written agreements to that effect are in place before you give the statement.
If you do decide to give a recorded statement, then at the very least you should be represented by a lawyer, and she/he must be present. Also, as a general rule, you should never give a recorded or oral statement concerning your accident to anyone without talking to a lawyer first.
Insurance companies want to keep their money and avoid paying claims. They want to talk to you "on the record" before you are protected by a lawyer so that they can get information from you that helps their case-and not yours. The more you have to explain yourself, the less focus will be exacted on the wrongful conduct of the other party.
Ask yourself: what can an adjuster gain from a recorded statement that is not obtainable with informal discussion? The answer is: not a thing. The demand for a recorded statement benefits them and that is why they want it. To reduce the claims paid, the insurance company must deny the claims made. To do this, claims adjusters will look for reasons to deny your claim. They may use your recorded statement for this purpose.
Even a vague question answered in a vague way can be an opportunity for an attorney to later accuse you of misstating the truth.
Insurance company employees will ask questions that are worded in such a way as to trap or trick you into responses that hurt your case. You may not even realize this is happening. The adjuster may further try to pressure you into agreeing to facts you aren't certain are completely accurate.
Insurance company employees will compare the statement you gave them with other statements you have made, including statements you gave an investigating police officer or made during your deposition in a lawsuit arising from the accident. When they find inconsistencies in your multiple statements, which is not unusual when someone tells the story of his wreck more than once-sometimes weeks or months apart-the company will claim you lied. The company may deny your claim as a result.
Adjusters know that most people will answer whatever questions seem reasonable, even if the question is not relevant to the claim. Personal questions that do not have relevance to your claim should not be answered. Questions about your income, for example, are not appropriate unless you are making a claim for lost wages. Sometimes adjusters ask for your Social Security number so they can look you up on a database called Insurance Service Office (ISO) Claimsearch.
The bottom line is that you should never give a recorded statement to an insurance company representative without the advice and guidance of a lawyer. When you turn down the representative's request, be courteous but firm. No matter how nice and personable they may be when they're talking to you, always keep in mind that they are employees of the insurance company and represent only its interests-not yours.
The purpose of this column is to provide general information on the law, which is subject to change. It is not legal advice. Consult a lawyer if you have a specific legal problem.
Published: June 07, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 08