If you've been injured in an accident that could lead to your filing an injury claim, you're likely to hear from one or more insurance companies—your own or another party's insurer, like the other driver's car insurer in a car accident case or the insurer of the property owner in a slip and fall case. These first conversations after your accident can be difficult, as you may be agitated or in pain, but common sense and a few guiding principles will keep you from saying anything that will adversely affect your personal injury case.
Before you discuss anything, get the insurance adjuster's name, address, and telephone number, the name of the insurance company, and the person or business the company represents. Be sure to keep a record of this information.
Although you may well be angry about the accident and your injuries, taking out your anger on the insurance adjuster will not help you win compensation. Keep in mind that most personal injury cases settle, so sooner or later you'll be at the negotiating table with the insurance company. Adjusters are used to dealing with angry claimants, but they are human and do not respond kindly to abuse. It is a good idea to avoid losing your temper with or heaping abuse on the agent during the negotiation process. You might even be nice—an insurance adjuster's good will toward you may pay off in promptly handling your claim or in believing you about something it is difficult for you to prove.
You need only tell the insurance adjuster your full name, address, and telephone number. At this point you need not explain or discuss any more than that about your work, your schedule, or your income, nor do you have to give detailed family or other personal information.
Warning: Note that this discussion applies to contact with another person's insurance company. When it comes to negotiating with your own insurance company, you may be obligated by the rules of your policy to give your own insurance adjuster information about the accident. Be sure to read with care anything you're asked to sign, especially a release form that allows your insurer to gather information.
Insurance adjusters or other representatives may try to get you to "give a statement" about how the accident happened—or they may simply engage you in conversation, during which they will try more subtly to get you to tell them about the accident. Politely refuse any discussion of the facts of the accident except the most basic: where, when, the type of accident, and the vehicles involved if it was a traffic accident. Say that your investigation of the accident is still continuing and that you will discuss the facts further "at the appropriate time." Later, you will be making a written demand for compensation in which you will describe the accident in detail. (Learn more about writing a demand letter in a personal injury case.)
If an adjuster asks about witnesses and you know of some, respond that there "may be" witnesses and that you will let the insurance company know "at the appropriate time." Do not commit yourself to identifying witnesses or to providing witness statements. Also, if the adjuster does ask you about witnesses, ask the adjuster if he or she knows of any.
If adjusters or representatives ask about potential responsible parties other than you and their insured, give any basic identifying information you may have and a general description of how this other person was involved, but, again, do not discuss the accident in detail. Also, ask whether the adjuster is aware of anyone else who might be responsible for the accident.
Naturally enough, an insurance adjuster is going to want to know about your injuries. However, you should not give a detailed description yet, in case you leave something out or discover an injury later, or your injury turns out to be worse than you originally thought.
Later, when you know the true extent of your injuries and treatment, you will include a complete medical description of your injuries in your written demand for compensation. Until then, give only a general description of injuries ("I've hurt my knee and back" or "My wrist is broken and I have neck and back pain"), and tell the adjuster you do not yet know how severe your injuries are. Also tell the adjuster that you will be seeking or continuing medical treatment. You do not have to say what doctors or other medical providers you are seeing, and you should not yet give the adjuster their names and addresses.
For a step-by-step guide to the injury claim process after any kind of accident, see How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).