6 Things Not To Say To Your Insurer, Or A Cop, After An Accident
Getting into an auto accident and having to file an insurance claim is traumatic enough. Add in the stress of trying to explain to a police officer or insurance adjustor what happened, and you’re likely to make a mistake.
A mistake, such as admitting too much responsibility, could result in your insurance claim being denied or at least delayed.
Attorneys not only rush to get to accident victims because they’re competing for business, but so they can speak to the victims before they speak to an insurance company, including their own, says Thomas Simeone, a lawyer in Washington, D.C.
“Clients do not realize that statements made to anyone other than their attorney — including their own insurance company — can be obtained by an adverse insurance company and used against them,” Simeone says.
A claim could be made against your own insurance company, such as when the other driver’s insurer disclaims coverage, and the insurer will use every statement by you against you if necessary, he says.
Here are some things you don’t want to say after an auto accident, especially to an officer, claims adjustor or insurance agent, but also not to a witness or anyone else involved in the accident:
1. “I’m sorry.” Don’t apologize or admit responsibility for the accident, which can be used as an admission of liability, Simeone says.
2. “I feel OK.” You may feel fine after an accident, but a casual statement that you’re OK can be intended to mean you don’t have any broken bones, but can be interpreted as “I don’t have any injuries,” Simeone says. Let a medical professional make that call. You may not realize you’re injured until after the shock of the accident wears off.
Every action and statement after an accident is being reviewed by an insurance company to see if you were truly injured, and how badly, he says.
3. “I was driving too fast.” Such a statement or anything else that speculates how the accident happened can not only lead to a claim being denied, but can get you arrested. Don’t admit you did something wrong, or speculate on what the other driver was doing or provide any time, speed or distance answers, Simeone says. Providing a number that is off by even a little can come back and haunt you, he says.
4. “Here’s what happened.” Giving a statement of how the accident happened can harm a legal case, even if it’s consistent with what you say later during a court case, Simeone says. “I have seen an insurance company argue that the use of different words or phrases was an inconsistency evidencing dishonesty,” he says. Talk to your attorney first, he says.
Lying is always a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean you have to admit fault or explain how an accident happened, says Christopher McCann, a DUI defense attorney in Los Angeles.
California law requires the driver to “only provide the other party and an officer with the name and address of the driver, registered owner and any injured party,” and to provide “reasonable assistance” to an injured person, McCann says
“When you are not at fault, it generally helps to cooperate with police for the average minor fender-bender, but be careful if you feel that you are being accused of anything criminal, such as hit-and-run, DUI or causing death through a negligent act such as running a stop sign or failing to yield to a pedestrian,” McCann says.
“In those situations, when the officer starts being accusatory, affirmatively invoke your right to remain silent to the officer. It’s not a crime,” he says.
Silence is better than trying to talk your way out of it, he says.
California drivers are required to report accidents to the DMV and their insurance company in a timely manner, along with cooperating with the insurance company, McCann says. Most insurance companies will ask to make a recorded statement from you eventually, he says, and you can have your lawyer on the phone during an interview.
McCann says he advises his clients not to give any recorded answers that could be obtained later by a prosecutor.
5. “I only had one beer.” Like the other statements above that admit fault, this one is likely to be used against you, especially in a drunken driving case. Such admissions are never helpful and will probably lead to an officer requiring you to take a roadside sobriety test, says Larry Mertes, a criminal defense attorney in Boulder, Colo.
The tests are entirely subjective and may not be recorded, Mertes says. If the tests are voluntary, Mertes advises his clients to decline taking them, unless it’s a chemical test.
In Colorado, a driver who refuses to take a chemical test of their blood or breath will face a year without driving.
“If you are under investigation for a crime it is never a good idea to attempt to explain yourself to an officer,” Mertes says. “Stick with being polite and cooperative and asking for an opportunity to talk to your attorney before making statements that will be used to prosecute you.”
6. “In my opinion.” Providing an estimate of how fast you were driving, how far away a car was, how fast traffic was going, or any other opinion you have about an accident should be kept to yourself.
Unless you were staring at the speedometer as the accident happened, or got out with a measuring tape to measure distances, leave your opinions to yourself and stick to the facts. Your estimates could be wrong and used against you later.
If nothing else, remember that everyone you’re talking to after an accident is probably writing down what you’re saying, so just stick to the facts.