Navigating the Insurance Claims Process Following a Car Accident
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Navigating the insurance claims process after a car accident is stressful and confusing. One mistake could cost you thousands of dollars or result in your claim getting denied. First, it’s important to understand the basics about how car insurance works in Georgia. Next, it’s vital you know what to say, and more importantly what not to say, to insurance adjusters after a car accident.
Georgia Car Insurance: Levels of Coverage
Let’s begin by covering the different levels of car insurance coverage in Georgia
How much car insurance is required for Georgia Drivers?
Georgia law requires drivers to carry liability insurance to drive on public roads and highways. The minimum liability limits are $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident for injury claims. Georgia also requires $25,000 in property damage coverage. Keep in mind that these limits are only the state minimum. Insurance companies often write coverage significantly higher than minimum limits.
What is “Full Coverage” car insurance?
While most drivers have car insurance, few understand what coverage it provides. Our clients regularly tell us they have “full coverage.” There is no such thing under Georgia law.
Many insurance agents tell their customers that they have “full coverage” when a policy provides liability and collision coverage. While these are two important coverages to have under your insurance policy, they are far from the only two.
Optional additional car insurance coverage
Many additional coverages are offered by insurance companies, including underinsured motorist coverage and medical payments.
Approximately 13% of drivers do not have car insurance. Underinsured motorist, often shortened to UM or UIM, provides coverage if you are injured by a driver who does not have insurance, or if the other driver has liability limits that are not adequate to cover your damages. For example, if a negligent driver carrying state minimum limits of $25,000 causes you to suffer damages of $100,000, that driver would be $75,000 underinsured. Thus, if you carried $75,000 in UIM coverage, that amount would be available to use.
Also, unless you signed a UM rejection form when you applied for your car insurance, your insurance policy must provide you with UM coverage.
Medical payments is often abbreviated as MP or Med Pay. This coverage provides a fixed amount of money to pay for injuries related to a car accident. This coverage applies regardless of who is at fault for the collision. It is particularly useful to carry this coverage if you do not have health insurance or your health insurance plan has a high deductible.
How do I know what coverages I purchased?
Insurance coverage is summarized on a declarations page. In the insurance industry this page is frequently referred to as a “Dec Page.” The declarations page will tell you the amount of insurance you purchased and the different types of coverage that you purchased.
Insurance Claims Process: Negotiating with Car Insurance Claims Adjusters
Claims adjusters, also known as insurance adjusters, work for insurance companies. They are trained professionals. In fact, insurance adjusters must continue their education by completing additional training each year. Do not make the mistake of dealing with an adjuster without an experienced lawyer.
Here are some common phrases you will hear from insurance adjusters and what each phrase really means.
Myth: “You have a very limited amount of time to get this claim resolved, so you need to sign a release today.”
Fact: In Georgia, you have two years before your time to file a lawsuit expires. There is no need or urgency to sign anything while you are still in pain.
Myth: “We will handle everything for you.”
Fact: Insurance adjusters will do their best to get you to say and do things that lessen the value of your claim. In other words, insurance adjusters handle everything for their employer—the insurance company.
Myth: “We will pay for all of your medical bills.”
Fact: Insurance companies will assess if your medical bills are “reasonable and customary.” If the bills are too high or the insurance company thinks your treatment was not related to the accident, it will not pay your bills. Most large insurance companies use sophisticated software to minimize medical bills and claim value.
Myth: “You need to sign a medical authorization form to get paid for your claim.”
Fact: Do not sign a medical records release provided by the insurance company. You need to have the opportunity to review your own medical records before the insurance company to make sure everything in them is correct.
Myth: “Take it or leave it; this offer expires when we get off the phone.”
Fact: The offer may expire, but it is probably not the best offer anyway, and it certainly does not mean that another offer will not be made. Do not fall for this bullying tactic! Call an HPS Attorney and let us get you a fair offer.
If an insurance adjuster calls you after an accident, simply get his or her name, phone number, and company he or she works for and let them know you will need to call them back. Do not let the adjuster talk you into giving a recorded statement.
Insurance Claims Process: Providing Recorded Statements
Insurance companies use recorded statements to gather information for all sorts of collisions. Adjusters use recorded statements to evaluate who is responsible (known as “liability”), preserve personal information about the people involved, and to understand the injured person’s medical treatments.
People often wonder whether to give a recorded statement. It is a good question. However, in any case, an injured person should not give a recorded statement to an insurance company without a lawyer’s advice. In fact, there may be no legal obligation to give a recorded statement.
For example, there is no legal obligation to give a recorded statement to the other side’s insurance carrier. Conversely, most insurance policies contain language creating a duty to corporate with an investigation when one is seeking benefits under his or her own policy. Stated another way, if you are seeking money under your policy (as opposed to the other side’s policy), you have a contractual duty to comply with the terms of your insurance policy. But you may and should consult with an experienced injury lawyer first.
Most recorded statements are taken over the telephone by a claim adjuster. It is important to prepare for a recorded statement. An insurance company can use what is said in a recorded statement to contradict what is said later. Most people have no intention of lying, but even minor or unintentional changes in a person’s story will be exploited during litigation. In other words, anything you say can and will be used against you by the insurance company.
Insurance Claims Process: Insurance Settlement Offers for Injury Claims
If an insurance company offers you a settlement, take time to consult with a lawyer before accepting or rejecting the offer. Insurance companies are in business to earn a profit. Sometimes earning a profit means paying a smaller sum sooner, rather than a larger sum later.
Even if the settlement is only for your vehicle, do not accept it without consulting with a lawyer first. For example, an insurance company may offer you Kelly Blue Book value for your vehicle. It may seem like a fair offer. But it may not be if the at fault driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the car accident.
For example, we represented a man who was offered $4,500 for his old truck; he wanted $5,000. While talking with him, we learned that the at fault driver was arrested for DUI. After presenting a punitive damages demand to the insurance carrier, it paid $50,000 to resolve his case.
The insurance claims process is confusing. Don’t get steamrolled by a big insurance company. Your health, well-being, and quality of life are too important to risk. Call one of our Atlanta car accident lawyers today at 404-400-1175.