Don't Take the First Personal Injury Settlement Offer

It's almost never a good idea to accept the insurance company's quick settlement offer, especially if you need more clarity on the nature and extent of your injuries.

It's standard practice with most personal injury claims: The insurance company offers you a personal injury settlement during the first one or two phone calls. Such quick settlements save the insurance company work, and, more importantly, settling fast might mean you (the claimant) accept a small amount before you fully understand what your injuries are and how much your claim is really worth. Don't make this mistake. Agreeing to an early settlement may seem like a simple way to get compensation without having to go through the claims process, and a quick resolution is often tempting, but it will almost certainly cost you money, sometimes quite a lot.

Set Limits on Conversations

In your first contact with an insurance adjuster (which usually comes via a phone call) make it clear that you will not be discussing much.

Let the adjuster know that, until you have finished investigating the accident, have completed medical treatment, and have fully recovered from your injuries, you do not want to discuss anything related to:

  • how the accident happened
  • what your injuries are (or how serious they are, or whether your condition is improving), or
  • what a settlement amount should be

In this first discussion with the insurance adjuster, set boundaries. Ask that the adjuster communicate with you in writing until you present your written demand for compensation and actual settlement negotiations begin.

In some situations, however, it may not be practical to stop all phone conversations. For example, if you have been in a car accident, you may need to discuss the logistics of getting your vehicle repaired. If you do need to speak to the adjuster again, set whatever limits you want on the place and times -- home or work, morning, evening, weekends -- for telephone contact.

There are good reasons to limit your phone conversations with insurance adjusters. Some will call frequently in an attempt to get you to settle quickly, and they can become a real nuisance. It's good to nip this in the bud.

More important, until you have had a full opportunity to investigate and think about the accident, to determine the nature and extent of your injuries, and to recover (or reach "maximum medical improvement" in insurance parlance), you will not have accurate information to provide. And, if you give incomplete or inaccurate information on the phone, the insurance company may try to make you stick to it later on.

Some insurance adjusters are good at getting you to say something which could be considered an admission of some fault on your part, or which limits the seriousness of your injuries. It is therefore much better to have no discussions at all until you have made your compensation demand in writing and you are fully prepared to discuss a settlement.

Learn more about talking (or not talking) to the other side's insurance company after a car accident.

Take Notes

As soon as your conversation is over, write down all the information you received over the phone, as well as whatever information you gave to, or requests you made of, the person with whom you spoke. Get in the habit of note-taking for all conversations with anyone from the insurance company.

(More tips on dealing with the insurance company after an accident or injury.)

Don't Sign Anything From Another Insurance Company

Warning! No matter what an adjuster says about any forms, do not sign anything sent to you by another person's insurance company. Among the first things you might receive in the mail from an insurance company handling an accident claim are various forms an adjuster describes to you as "just routine" or "normal procedure." However, these forms may give the insurance company direct access to your medical, personal, or work records -- or even be a disguised release from any liability for the accident.

You are not required to give the insurance company permission to get any records or information about you. (Later in the claims process, you will send the insurance company certain medical and income loss information, but in your own time and on your own terms. Get more tips on writing an effective demand letter.

More Information on Personal Injury Claims

Nolo's book How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo), is a complete guide that will take you through the personal injury claim process, including dealing with insurance companies and lawyers.

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