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Legally Speaking

13 things to know after an accident: Part 1

05/01/2008 - We all live thinking, "It will never happen to me", or at least hoping it will never happen. But if you end up in an auto accident, you may face a whole new set of questions that you have never dealt with before. Here are some basic answers to questions you may face.

1) Should I give a recorded statement, and why do they want it?

Following an accident, it is typical for an insurance company to want a recorded statement from you. This automatically raises the question of whether to give a recorded statement or not. If it is your own insurance company, there is a contractual duty to cooperate. Thus, you may be required to give your own insurance company a statement.

If the adverse party's insurance company is asking, it is less clear. There is no legal duty to give them a statement. However, they may tell you that the only way that they will work with you is if you do give one. Generally, I don't recommend giving statements to the other side. You may want to consult with an attorney before agreeing to give a recorded statement.

2) If I decide to give a recorded statement, what are the hazards?

If you decide to give a written statement, it is important that you be complete and honest. It is important that you fully set forth all of the injuries, physical problems, work limitations, etc., that you have and from which you are suffering.

It may take months or even years before your matter is resolved or goes to trial. If you give a statement now, years from now the insurance company will pull it out and argue at the trial that you are complaining of symptoms or problems that you did not identify back when you gave your recorded statement.

I have seen it argued at trial that problems like back injuries, knee injuries, etc., could not have occurred in the auto accident because they were not mentioned in the recorded statement made immediately following the accident. Therefore, be sure to be complete.

3) Can I work with the other side's insurance company?

Insurance companies are large and sophisticated businesses. They have done extensive statistical analyses and focus group work. They understand that individuals who hire an attorney are likely to obtain 3 times more money than those who do not hire an attorney. Further, through their polling and focus groups they understand that it is better to present an attitude of working with you instead of against you. So early in the process, you can expect a claims adjustor to express a willingness to work with you. It is important, however, that you have enough information (more on that next month) about your injury and the legal process so that you know whether or not you are getting a fair shake.

4) Should I release my medical records to the insurance adjustor?

This, again, is a difficult decision. If it is your own insurance company, you may be required to do so. However, if it is the other party's insurance company, you are not obligated to do so. In many instances it will work against you. Yet the other party's insurance company will probably not agree to pay until you agree to sign a medical release. Our firm has noticed that the medical releases tend to be over broad and in many instances are used against you. We usually oversee that process directly. But if you decide to sign a medical release to the other party's insurance company, be sure that you put some time limitations on it and reserve the right to terminate it when you choose.

Every case is different with specific circumstances that should be addressed individually. Should you have a legal question, speak to an attorney who is qualified to answer your specific question.

R. Michael Shickich is an attorney-at-law practicing in Casper.

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