Car accidents are highly disruptive and may cause devastating losses and injuries. If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident because of the actions of another driver, the situation can seem even worse when the insurance company of the at fault party is seemingly dragging its feet on processing your claim. The steps that you should take with auto insurance claims will depend on whether you were injured in the accident or instead suffered only property losses. At Lamber Goodnow, we believe car accident victims should take several steps to protect their interests immediately after their accidents when the other drivers are at fault.
Q: Why insurance companies drag their feet on settling auto insurance claims?
A: Many people have the misconception that insurance companies exist solely to help them when help is needed. However, insurance companies are for-profit entities that are in business to make money and maximize profits rather than paying out millions to claimants each year. While it might seem like the amounts involved in losses from a single car accident are minute compared with the billions of dollars that insurance companies take in every year in premiums, insurance company executives view claims that they have to pay in the aggregate. This means that insurance companies consider individual claims dispassionately, thinking about them in terms of profit and loss rather than in terms of the impact on individual people.
Insurance companies may try to reduce the amounts that they will ultimately be forced to pay in settlements. In some cases, they may dispute or deny claims outright even when the liability of their insureds appears clear. It is important for you to recognize the common strategies that insurance companies often employ in an effort to reduce or avoid paying settlements so that you can take steps to protect your rights to recover damages for your losses.
Q: What are the common strategies that insurance companies use to reduce or avoid settlements?
A: In order to reduce the monetary amounts that they might have to pay to settle claims or to potentially avoid paying them, insurance companies may employ a number of different common strategies. Once the insurance company of the at fault party learns about your accident, you will likely receive a call from an insurance representative or adjuster within a few days of the accident. The representative may ask you what happened and whether you were hurt. An adjuster may ask you to give a recorded statement about your accident for the company’s investigation. Insurance companies are required by Arizona law to investigate claims promptly under A.R.S. § 20-461. The adjuster may tell you that he or she needs to get your statement as a part of the insurance company’s investigative process.
You might also be sent a medical authorization form and be asked to sign it. As a general rule, you should never sign any documents granting an insurance company the right to review your medical records or agree to give a recorded statement to an adjuster without seeking legal advice first. These are commonly used by insurance companies to gather evidence against your claim so that the companies might avoid having to pay you.
In addition to trying to gather statements and medical records to use as evidence against your claim, insurance companies may also drag out the process as long as possible. You might be facing expenses such as rental car fees and medical bills while the at-fault driver’s insurance company seemingly does nothing about your claim. The company might tell you that it needs more forms and make similar claims when you question the company about the delays. Unreasonable delays are prohibited under Arizona law. The companies must promptly notify you about your claim and complete its investigation within a reasonable amount of time.
Q: What is Insurance company and their laws?
A: In addition to the Unfair Claim Settlement Practices Act that is codified at A.R.S. § 20-461, insurance companies must also comply with the Department of Insurance regulations that are outlined in the Arizona Administrative Code. Under Ariz. Admin. Code §R20-6-801(F), insurance companies are supposed to complete their investigations of claims within 30 days of being notified unless the investigations cannot be reasonably completed within that time period. While claims that only involve property losses are normally completed within that time period, those that include injury claims will likely take longer. The insurance companies may not purposely drag cases out in the hopes that the claimants will either miss the statutory deadline for filing personal injury lawsuits or will simply give up and go away. Insurance companies that engage in bad faith tactics may face penalties under the law and be forced to pay damages and reasonable attorney’s fees to the victims of their actions.
Q: How to handle a slow-moving insurance company when you have suffered property losses?
A: If you only suffered property losses in the accident and were not injured, you may be able to handle the at-fault driver’s insurance company without needing to get help from an attorney. If you have been left without transportation and have not been given a rental car to use until your claim is settled, you can start by calling your own insurance company. Your company may work to force the at-fault driver’s insurance company to pay for a rental vehicle while you are waiting for your claim to settle.
If you receive a notice from the at-fault driver’s insurance company that it is denying your claim, you will want to ask for a copy of any evidence that they relied on and for a list of reasons for the denial in writing. The companies must give you this documentation if you request it. You can also file a complaint with the insurance department while you work with your own company. Your insurance company may pay for your vehicle repairs and fight the other company to be reimbursed.
If you still do not have any luck, you can file a claim for your property losses on a pro se basis in the Justice Court if your losses totaled $10,000 or less or in the Superior Court if they totaled more than $10,000. Before you file a lawsuit, you can first send a demand letter to the insurance company in which you demand the fair settlement amount that you are owed. In many cases, insurance companies will go ahead and settle property loss claims without people ever having to file lawsuits against them.
Q: What to do when the at-fault driver's company is moving slowly on an injury claim?
A: If you were injured in your car accident and the at-fault driver’s company is unreasonably delaying your claim, it is important for you to get help from the experienced legal team at Lamber Goodnow. While it is possible for you to try to negotiate your injury claim on your own, it is not advisable for you to do so. Insurance companies are large corporations that have teams of defense lawyers that are ready to aggressively defend against personal injury claims. When you attempt to litigate your claim without help, you will have to contend with the defense attorneys. There are many other reasons to not attempt to handle your claim alone. There are types of insurance coverage that may be available which you do not know about. You may also have to reimburse health insurers and health care providers at the conclusion of your case, and there are very specific laws that affect whether you have to pay and, if so, how much.
Insurance companies might also extend unreasonably low offers to car accident victims in the hopes that they will accept them or that they will believe that their claims are worth far less than reality. Getting help from an attorney who understands the applicable laws and who is knowledgeable about the different tactics that some insurance companies try to use to reduce or avoid claims can potentially help you to recover far more money than you might be able to recover on your own.
Insurance companies are also less likely to engage in bad faith practices such as unreasonably delaying claims or failing to investigate them when an attorney is involved. The companies know that the lawyers are likely familiar with the legal requirements for insurance companies and are less likely to fail to act on your claim.
Q: What are the steps you can take after an accident to protect your rights?
A: While it may seem difficult to know what to do immediately after you have been in an accident because of the actions of another driver, the steps that you take immediately after your accident may be crucial to preserving your rights to recover damages. You should start by getting the contact and insurance information of the other driver. If you have your smartphone with you, photograph the other driver’s insurance information, registration paperwork and driver’s license so that you have the information. Under A.R.S. § 28-663, drivers who are involved in accidents are required to exchange information. You should call 911 or your local police agency if someone has been injured, and/or to document the claim and obtain witness information, and you should provide first aid until help arrives.
If you are able to do so, try to use your smartphone to photograph the accident scene, the damage to both vehicles, and the license plate of the other driver’s vehicle. Photographs of the scene should include things like the location of traffic control devices, the positions of both vehicles and such things as any skid marks that might have been left on the roadway. Photographs from the time period immediately following the accident can provide important information to help to show the liability of the at-fault driver.
When the police arrive, tell them what happened from your perspective. If you suspect that the other driver might be intoxicated, tell the police officer of your observations such as smells or slurred speech. The police might not always spot these types of signs, and your report might lead to them conducting blood or breath tests of the other driver.
In some cases, drivers who were clearly at fault may act angry and might try to accuse the people that they hit of causing the accidents. If you are faced with an angry driver who is trying to place the blame on you, do not accept any blame or apologize. If you are concerned for your safety, remain in your vehicle with the doors locked until the police arrive.
You should never assume that you have not been injured. People who are involved in accidents experience a surge of adrenaline. This might make them fail to notice injuries for several hours. Some injuries such as soft-tissue injuries may not manifest symptoms for several days. When the officer asks you if you have been injured, tell him or her that you want to get examined by your doctor. You should then consider very seriously getting a medical examination, if for no other reason to rule out serious injury. If injuries are discovered, follow your doctor’s recommended treatment regimen. Finally, you should contact an experienced accident lawyer at Lamber Goodnow if you have suffered injuries in a car accident that was the other driver’s fault.
Underinsured or no insurance
Under Arizona law, all drivers are supposed to carry mandatory minimum automobile coverage. The minimum liability amounts include the following:
- $15,000 bodily injury for one person
- $30,000 total bodily injury coverage for up to two people
- $10,000 in property coverage 
There are a couple of issues that can happen in reality, however. Despite the law requiring insurance, many drivers fail to carry it. Others may only carry the minimum coverage amounts. If you have been injured in an accident, your medical expenses and property losses may far exceed the other driver’s policy limits if he or she only has liability coverage. If the other driver is uninsured, you might face substantial losses without having the ability to recover damages. The problems of underinsured or no insurance drivers can be handled in a few different ways.
If you learn from an insurance company that the information that was provided to you on the date of your accident by the other driver is invalid, you can submit an insurance information request form to the Arizona Department of Transportation with a $3 fee. ADOT will then let you know whether it shows any insurance information for the other driver on the date of your accident so that you can pursue your claim with the correct company. If ADOT does not find any insurance information, you will need to decide whether to file a civil claim in court against the other driver. An attorney may also be able to identify other sources of recovery. For example, if the driver who caused your accident was borrowing someone else’s car, you might be able to pursue a claim against the car’s owners in some situations.
Insurance companies also offer optional coverage to people called underinsured (UIM) and uninsured motorists (UM) coverage. It is a good idea to have this type of coverage because of the large number of drivers who either do not have insurance or who do not have enough. UM/UIM coverage protects when the at fault driver does not have insurance or does not have enough insurance.. When that occurs, you can file a claim with your own insurance company to recover damages for your accident.
Contact Lamber Goodnow for help
Dealing with an insurance company that is seemingly dragging its feet on your claim can be frustrating. If you have been injured in an accident and are having difficulty with your claim, you might benefit by talking to the experienced and compassionate team of attorneys at Lamber Goodnow. Contact us today to learn more about your potential claim and your rights.