When dealing with claims and lawsuits, it’s hard not to see the process as adversarial, even personal.
You, as the injured party, want a certain result and the insurance company, not surprisingly, wants a different one.
What’s important to remember is that the insurance company is not on a personal quest to destroy your case. There isn’t a picture of you in some office, somewhere, with darts sticking out of it. They are just engaging in tactics that they always engage in, to minimize their payout.
It can take two years or more to settle a personal injury claim, so you have to be prepared to mitigate any damage to your credibility that could be used against you in the negotiation process.
Here’s what you need to do and not do, to make sure that you maintain a strong case from the point of the accident right through settlement negotiations:
From the moment you are in an accident, you need to document everything. That might seem farfetched, particularly in the case of a serious accident where you are injured and in shock, but not doing so could leave gaps in your file, which the insurance company will look to exploit.
Without fail, if you were injured in the accident—even if it seems to be minor—do these three things:
- If you aren’t hospitalized, call your doctor and get in to see them as soon as possible. Ideally, this would happen within 24 hours.Even if you were seen by a paramedic at the scene, you need to continue to be evaluated.Some injuries don’t surface right away because of the shock and adrenaline running through your body. What’s important is the doctor’s evaluation and notes, in forming the documentation timeline of your injuries. It might seem trite to have to deal with that hours after a serious accident, but it could make a big difference down the road, when you’re settling your claim.
- Call a personal injury lawyer.While the extent of your injuries and their long term repercussions on your ability to resume your life may not yet be fully understood, having a lawyer look at your case right away ensures that the timeline mentioned in point 1 is being fully documented.For example?The details of the accident will still be fresh in your mind, but days later, you might find it difficult to recall salient points. Getting in touch with a lawyer who will know what questions to ask and how to move forward is a good step.
- Keep receipts.As part of the documentation process, you need to keep every receipt that has anything to do with your accident and injury.Did you take a taxi to your doctor’s office visit? Keep that receipt.Did you have to pay for any assistive devices at the hospital to help you walk? Keep that receipt.Everything and anything connected to your claim should be carefully retained. Whether or not its relevant is a decision that will be made by someone else.
Be aware of optics
Following your accident and injury, you need to assume that there are parties who are interested in how you are progressing in your recovery.
Some of those parties have your best interest at heart, like your doctor or physical therapist. Some don’t, like the insurance company that is responding to your claim.
They don’t wish you ill, but they will do what they need to do to build up a defense strategy, and those tactics include surveillance.
Here are some key times during your claim when they might use surveillance:
- At the beginning of the case, to verify certain details. For example, if you are stating that you can’t work and have been housebound as a result of your injuries, they might want to verify that statement with surveillance.
- At the point of Examination for Discovery. This is a meeting between yourself, your lawyer and the insurance company’s lawyers to determine issues like your employment history, accident and injury details and current condition.
Since they know you will travel to attend the meeting, surveillance is sometimes used to verify your mobility and any obvious presence of physical disability.
- During the preparation for trial / settlement negotiation. The defense lawyers working for the insurance company may set up more surveillance to continue to monitor the situation against information you provided during the discovery process.
A claim that has gotten this far is generally going to have a payout. The only question is: how much?
If they can find evidence that your injuries might not be as severe as is being stated by yourself and your medical team, undermining your credibility, they will look to use that information at trial or in negotiations.
If you stated during discovery (and on the record) that you couldn’t do your lawn maintenance and subsequent surveillance shows you mowing your lawn, you’re not going to look very credible.
This being said, it doesn’t mean you need to live in fear, hiding out in your home day and night.
What it does mean is that you must be absolutely straightforward and truthful about your injury status.
If you are able to resume certain activities with little to no pain, you need to share this information with your lawyer.
Minimize Your Social Media Presence
While physical surveillance is still used extensively by insurance companies to get a sense of your status, social media surveillance is becoming more and more prevalent.
People might let their guard down a little online, not realizing that there are interested parties who might be checking in on their Facebook status or Instagram posts.
If you’ve stated that you are severely depressed and cannot take care of your children, but your Facebook posts and Instagram feed show dozens of pictures of you playing, dancing and generally having a good time with your kids, you have a credibility problem.
Of course, it’s unfair: as anyone with mental illness will tell you, there are good days and bad. A single snapshot doesn’t negate a diagnosis, but it does lend to your believability. It begs the question: is there anything else you’re not sharing truthfully?
At this time, the legislation is changing as to whether social media posts can be used at trial as evidence, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution and limit what you share online.
Frankly, your lawyer would be happier if you stayed off social media altogether, during the trial / settlement process, but if you can’t manage that, at least make sure that your security settings are tight and you limit your sharing as much as possible.
When in doubt, check with a personal injury lawyer: we can always tell you the good and bad of any situation, so that you can make informed choices about your treatment, your recovery and your future.