To give a statement or not, that is the question




Should you give a statement to the defendant’s liability carrier after your auto accident?

I should start by pointing out that there are many different points of views on this, but they fall into two categories, generally…those that don’t like statements, and those that don’t mind them so much.

But what does that tell you?  A good place to start is considering the person with whom you are speaking.  The adjuster works for the liability insurance company.  The adjuster’s job is to try to save their employer money.  You should approach each and every interaction with them with that thought in mind.

Because of their overarching goal, giving a statement to the adjuster can be dangerous to your claim.  Adjusters are trained to  ask you questions, which elicit responses that might damage your claim, so talking with them is very dangerous!  Because North Carolina is still a Contributory Negligence state, it is especially dangerous with regards to the determination of negligence, or who screwed up, in your accident.  If they get you to say something that shows you contributed to the cause of your accident, you can mangle your case with a quickness.  And even if you get by that little problem,  there are still things you might accidentally do/say to harm the value of your claim.  For example:

Adjuster: How are you doing today?

Victim: I’m fine, how about you?

MISTAKE!   You’re not “fine”!  You were just in an automobile accident!  You just got out of the hospital and full of pain meds!  But this is the danger.  We have a habit of falling into conventional conversation patters and we subconsciously say stuff that may not be true AND that they’ll use against you later:

NASTY DEFENSE ATTORNEY IN COURT: “…then why did you say to the adjuster, ‘I’m fine,’ the day after the accident, hmmmmm?”

Most of the time, for the reasons pointed out above, I shy away from having my clients make statements to the carriers.  The tricky cases, though, are when the carrier is leaning solely on your story alone to determine if they’ll accept the claim.  This mostly happens when they can’t get their own insured to give them a statement, or when their insured’s story, or a witness’ story, doesn’t jive with the accident report.   This is really frustrating because getting them to accept liability means getting your property damage claim moving, which is often the most immediate concern of most clients; everyone needs transportation in this area…public transportation isn’t the norm.  This scenario creates a very precarious position for victims.

So how can you get the claim moving without facing these perils?

You may be best off speaking to an attorney first, particularly one that actually does personal injury law.  If there are concerns about liability (could you be at fault, maybe?) in your case, speaking to the adjuster may do more harm than good.  This is especially true in stop sign intersection cases, or any intersection case for that matter.

After you consider the facts in your specific scenario and IF you decide you REALLY want to just move forward with the statement (which I normally would try to avoid!) then follow these guidelines:

  • Ask questions:   Why is the statement necessary?  Is the accident report available?  Why is it not good enough?  Is there a way you can help him to meet his goals to reach a liability decision without subjecting you to a recorded statement like a criminal defendant? If you are nice but firm, this might get you out of the statement, or might lead to an alternative.
  • Watch the small talk.  Just because he’s talking to you about sports and your favorite UFC fighter doesn’t mean he’s a good dude.  He’s taking notes on everything you say, and you can do lots of harm when you’re talking but not thinking about what you’re saying.  Try to avoid the small talk and get to the point.
  • If you ask for the statement not to be recorded, they might agree (or they might pretend not to be recording). Still, the problem with recorded statements is what you say, and how you say it, is preserved forever.  It’s that inability to be flexible in your narrative later down the road that creates issues.  So if you can have an informal discussion, that’s better.
  • Keep it simple.  People are generally not very good at this.  Still, try!  Don’t give any more details than necessary.  “I was stopped for traffic in front of me and she hit me from behind.”  Boom.  There’s your story.  There’s no need to elaborate.
  • DO NOT DISCUSS  injuries or treatment.  If you are injured, tell them you are injured and that’s all you’re telling them.  You will discuss injuries and treatment AFTER you’re done recovering.

In my experience, if you can avoid the statement without creating too many secondary issues for yourself, that’s the best strategy. But under some circumstances you might be stuck.  The best thing you can do for your claim is speak to an experienced attorney.  I know one that can help!  THIS GUY!  Call me at 919-929-2992.

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Jeffrey Allen Howard, Attorney at Law, PLLC
1829 E. Franklin St. - Bldg 600
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

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