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What You Should — and Shouldn’t — Say to Your Insurer After a Car Accident

March 15, 2016
Auto Insurance, Insurance
What You Should -- and Shouldn't -- Say to Your Insurer After an Accident
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It’s your “good neighbor.” It’s “on your side.” But after a car accident, some drivers fear their insurance company won’t be such a pal.

“Hopefully your insurer will step up,” says Amy Bach, executive director of consumer advocacy group United Policyholders. “But auto claims can get complicated by fine print.”

How do you avoid these complications? Lying to your insurer is a bad idea — and against the law — so prudent consumers should be aware that their words can have consequences. Here are some guidelines for communicating with your insurance company:

Stick to the facts

It’s natural to want to explain the accident, beat by beat. But how much should you really say?

Bach advises drivers to answer questions honestly, but be careful about volunteering unsolicited details. “If you try to save money by being less than honest, the truth may come out,” she says. Your insurer shouldn’t deny your claim because of misrepresentations, she adds, but it may raise your rates.

While you should be as honest as possible, don’t strain to provide concrete details that may not be there. “Many customers can’t actually recall specifics,” says Jason Lundberg, a San Francisco attorney specializing in vehicle accidents. “Trying to give precise details can lead to a false recount. Instead of specifics, providing estimates is a good way to cooperate.”

Lundberg also reminds drivers that they can refuse to have initial statements recorded, and doing so could help keep impromptu comments or misremembered facts from being used against them. Ultimately it’s a reasonable request, but make sure you know exactly what you want to say before agreeing.

Avoid assuming blame

One of the most common post-accident missteps is admitting fault. Even if you think you were clearly to blame, there may be mitigating factors. Fault determinations are rarely cut and dried. Remember, your interpretation is only that: an interpretation.

“Most accidents are caused by both parties,” Lundberg says. “Sometimes 50/50, sometimes 90/10. Investigations may reveal there is something the [other] driver could have done to avoid the accident.” So while taking the blame may feel righteous, it might not be, well, right. And it could lead to an unwarranted rate hike or a lower settlement than you deserve.

What’s the alternative? Leave it to the authorities. “Let the investigative process play out,” Lundberg says. “You may be surprised.”

Get your fair compensation

Come settlement time, getting fairly compensated can be a delicate dance.

For injury claims, start by visiting a reputable doctor and share any findings with your insurer. “Any claims that aren’t documented by your doctor won’t be considered,” Lundberg cautions.

Even then, Bach says, policyholders could face resistance. “Be prepared to [also] be examined by a doctor who has a relationship with your insurer,” she says.

Property damage may be more straightforward. “Most states give you the right to have your car repaired at the facility of your choice,” Bach says. “If your insurer balks at paying for the repairs, consider contacting your state department of insurance.”

Ultimately, you have to work with your insurer, Lundberg says, so don’t be adversarial.

But working with your insurer doesn’t mean forfeiting your rights. You’re a customer, not a confidant — fight for the protection you paid for.

Check out NerdWallet’s car insurance comparison tool for help finding the most competitive car insurance rates where you live and to possibly save hundreds on your premium.

Alex Glenn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

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