This caution comes from a New Jersey member: We should warn NMA members that their auto insurance company lawyers work to protect the interests of the insurer. The insured is wise to considering contracting an attorney for protection from . . . his own insurer.
Most of us aren’t naïve enough to believe that our insurers put our interests over theirs. But this member backs up his warning with an experience that drives the point home. In his words:
Many years ago a damaged vehicle─one that didn’t look safe to be on the road─passed me on the right so close that our side mirrors contacted. The other driver’s mirror broke. Mine was unscratched. She demanded we wait and have a state trooper make an accident report. While waiting, several times she offered to settle on the spot not for a few hundred dollars as nuisance value but for thousands.
The trooper arrived, took our statements, noted no injuries or significant vehicle contact, wrote something up and told us we both could leave. I left and described the incident in a report to my insurance company and highlighted that this might be an instance of insurance fraud.
Unbeknownst to me, the other driver stayed behind and called local police, an ambulance and a tow truck. My insurance company found no record of the trooper or his accident report. The only information available was that I hit her car and left her injured at the scene, backed by some eyewitness statements about seeing her being carried to an ambulance.
I was found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident. “My” insurance company lawyer agreed to pay damages to the other driver rather than to pursue a claim of fraud. My insurance coverage was dropped and a hard and lasting lesson learned.
There are certain steps to take after being involved in an accident if you are physically able, particularly if you believe it may have been a staged accident with you as the targeted victim. Among them:
- If you have a camera — a smartphone will usually serve the purpose — take photos of the cars and people involved to document the damage and physical condition of the others involved. Also capture the images of bystanders.
- Get names, contact information, driver’s license numbers, and auto insurance details from all parties.
- Call the police yourself, be satisfied that you are dealing with legitimate law enforcement, and be certain to get a copy of the police report before leaving the scene.
- Stay until the (real) police release you.
- Don’t trust people who pop up on the scene almost immediately after the accident to recommend help from specific towing companies, doctors, attorneys, or car repair shops.
- Do not sign a blank claims form.
- Advise your insurance company immediately after the accident of the details and of any suspicions of a scam.
- Never admit fault at the accident scene. Assume that if you are in public view, anything you say will be heard and repeated.
The immediate aftermath of an accident is a trying time. Consider keeping a checklist like the one above in the vehicle with you and use it. It may help you from being victimized a second time by your own insurance company.