I wish I could categorically say that you can trust your insurance company. However, nearly 40 years of experience and numerous conversations with many clients over the years has taught me otherwise. The short answer is: “Be very cautious.” Go ahead and seek legal advice if you think something doesn’t feel or sound right. We and many other personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations. Do not be afraid to question actions or requests for information from your insurance company that do not seem right.
Three common situations can create conflicts with the insurance company.
1) Property damage to your car.
This generally causes the fewest complaints or calls. It’s important to remember that if you purchased collision coverage and the other driver’s carelessness or negligence caused the collision, you can get estimates from both insurance companies to fix your car. If you go through your own insurance company, you would pay the deductible and then your company will try to recover that from the at-fault driver and refund it to you. You can also go through the insurance company of the driver who caused the collision and see if they will give you a more comprehensive estimate or a better price if your car is totaled.
If your car is totaled it’s important to do research about your car. You can go online or check other evaluation services. You can increase the value of your car by documenting any options it has, recent repairs or upgrades (such as new tires or a radiator, etc.). It’s also important to do the research since both new and used car prices have gone up a lot lately as a result of the pandemic. You might be surprised at the current value of your car.
2) Rental Car Expenses.
A more frequent cause of complaints involves rental car expenses. It’s critical to check your policy to see if you purchased rental car coverage. If so, check to see if there are any limits in the daily or total charge. You can also go through the other driver’s insurance if they were at fault in causing the collision. That company may say they only pay for a specific number of days or a certain total but there are no rules established by the State of Minnesota supporting such limits. That company must provide you with rental car coverage for a reasonable time within which you can repair or replace your vehicle. I’ve had clients that had their cars in the shop for two weeks but the other driver’s insurance company only paid for 3-5 days. We successfully recovered the additional costs in conjunction with their bodily injury claims against the other drivers.
3) Claims for No-Fault or “PIP” Benefits
If you are injured in a car accident driving your own car, you still have to contact your own insurance company. Many people feel inundated and overwhelmed with all of the forms and applications they have to fill out to get payment for the benefits for which they paid. These include an Application for Benefits, authorizations, and perhaps giving a recorded statement to your insurance company. It’s important to know that you can have an attorney present when giving a recorded statement.
Be diligent and check the authorizations your insurance company is asking you to sign and return. Many of these ask you to authorize the release of information that may have nothing to do with your injuries. I’ve seen requests for the vehicle’s event data recorder, school records, tax returns and even bank statements hidden in authorization forms primarily intended to secure the release of medical bills and records. I routinely delete these from the authorizations I ask our clients to sign.
If you see something that doesn’t look right, ask the insurance company to justify why they need that information. You do have a duty to provide reasonable cooperation to your insurance company so they can pay the benefits they owe you. However, the Minnesota Fair Claims Practices Act also establishes a number of reciprocal duties on your insurance company. I’ve seen too many instances where an insurance company threatens to deny their own insured’s benefits by improperly claiming that the insured did not provide reasonable cooperation.
If your insurance company asks for an EUO (examination under oath), be very concerned. Be also similarly concerned if you are contacted by the company’s “special investigative unit.” These so-called “fraud squads” too often suspect insureds of engaging in fraudulent behavior when none exists.
Also, be very concerned if your insurance company indicates they want to schedule an “independent medical examination” or that they are suspending your benefits while they “investigate” your claim. This is insurance company speak for they are going to terminate your benefits in the near future. The “independent” doctors they hire are usually anything but independent and have made hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars providing insurance companies with the opinions they need to terminate their insureds’ benefits. Such companies often offer “full final” settlements for $1,500 – $2,500 which are almost always a bad idea. Again, you can obtain legal advice before you attend an examination by their doctor or enter into a settlement with them. Such examinations have to be performed in the city in which you work or reside. Your insurance company also owes you for any time you miss from work to attend their examination. The insurance companies often forget to tell their insureds that.
DEALINGS WITH THE AT-FAULT DRIVER’S INSURANCE COMPANY
Unlike an insured’s duty to reasonably cooperate with their own insurance company, there is no similar obligation to provide authorizations, give recorded statements, provide medical records, photographs or other information to the other driver’s insurance company. Beware of that insurance company’s attempts to settle your claim within days or weeks of the accident by offering $1,500 – $2,500. Those insurance companies would love nothing better than to pay you far less than your claim will likely be worth in the future. Once you settle with the other company, that ends any claims you have for pain and suffering, medical bills and lost wages in excess of what you can recover from your own insurance company and many other categories of losses you may be entitled to. It often takes doctors and patients at least one year to fully understand their injuries, which also strongly argues against settling with the other insurance company shortly after a collision. You should seek legal advice before entering into any such settlement.