If you’re hurt in a Mt. Pleasant car accident caused by someone else, South Carolina law allows you to file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company for economic and non-economic damages you’ve suffered as a result of the wreck:
- Damage to your vehicle/other property
- Current and future lost wages
- Current and future medical expenses
- Long-term disability care if necessary
- Physical pain and suffering due to injuries
- Psychological/emotional trauma
- Inability to take part in normal activities/loss of enjoyment of life
- Funeral and death-related expenses (if a loved one is lost in the accident)
The Truth About Insurance Companies And South Carolina Car Accidents
It’s important to remember, however, that the insurance company’s first priority is to stay profitable and earn money for its shareholders. The company does not do so by paying every claim that’s filed. In fact, the insurance company’s adjusters and attorneys are well paid to dispute, devalue, or deny your claim in order to save the company money. Let’s look at some examples of their tactics.
Calling You After the Car Accident
It’s quite possible that you will be called shortly after your accident by an adjuster from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This person is likely to express sympathy and concern for your health to get you to answer some “routine” questions that are supposedly to expedite your settlement. In reality, the adjuster is trying to take advantage of your circumstances by contacting you when you’re vulnerable, upset, and possibly on medication that affects your judgment. The actual objectives of the adjuster are to trick you into:
- Saying something that can be used to dispute or devalue your claim
- Agreeing to an unfair settlement
The smartest thing you can do in such a case is to give the insurance adjuster only your basic contact and insurance information. Then, end the conversation and refer the company to your attorney.
Offering a Quick, Low Settlement and Asking for a Verbal Agreement
The insurance adjuster knows that you’re in a difficult situation if you’re unable to work and have medical bills piling up. If you’re worried about money, you might be tempted to accept a low settlement fast, especially if you:
- Don’t yet know the full extent of your injuries or what future treatment might be necessary
- Might not yet have an attorney to evaluate your claim
In some cases, an insurance company representative might even show up at your home or hospital room to try and persuade you to accept a fast settlement and sign away your right ever to seek further compensation for your injuries. It’s more likely, though, that you’ll be offered a quick settlement by phone and asked for a verbal agreement. You might be told there’s a deadline by which you must accept an offer or lose your chance to recover damages. This is completely untrue. The only deadline for your claim is the personal injury statute of limitations in South Carolina, which is three years. You should not wait this long, but you should wait until you’ve completed your medical treatment and/or have a good idea of what your future medical expenses will be.
Any settlement you’re offered at this point is likely to be a low one that might not even compensate you for future economic damages like medical bills, let alone non-economic damages like pain and suffering or emotional stress. You should not sign or verbally agree to any settlement at this point. If a verbal settlement is offered, you should ask for it in writing and request that it be sent to your lawyer, who can determine whether it’s fair and negotiate for you if it’s not.
Is a Verbal Agreement Binding?
If you’ve already agreed verbally to a settlement, you should consult an attorney right away to find out what your options are. It’s possible that your agreement is binding, but it might not be as easy to enforce as a signed, written agreement would be, especially if the terms are unfair to you. Whether the agreement will be enforced depends on a number of factors and conditions.
If the amount is unreasonably low, your lawyer can organize your medical and other evidence to show that you deserve a higher award. If the insurance company does not cooperate, you might have to take your case to trial.
Other Insurance Company Tactics
You should be on guard whenever you’re contacted by the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Some other tactics it might use to dispute or deny your claim are requesting a medical authorization and requesting a recorded statement.
Requesting a Medical Authorization
The insurance adjuster is likely to ask you for a signed medical authorization giving access to your medical records, supposedly for the sake of calculating your current medical bills in order to include them in your settlement. The truth is that a signed authorization will give the company access to all your medical records, past and present.
If there’s any indication that you’ve suffered previous injuries or have a pre-existing condition, the company will try to blame your current medical issues on past problems in order to reduce its liability, devalue your claim, and save money. You should not sign a medical authorization for the insurance company unless directed to do so by your attorney.
Requesting a Recorded Statement
The insurance adjuster might ask you to tell your side of the story about your accident and resulting injuries and agree to have your statement recorded. The supposed reasons for recording your statement will be:
- To understand exactly what happened and how you were hurt
- To establish the at-fault driver’s liability
- To be sure you get the settlement you deserve
Don’t believe any of it. The adjuster will probably ask you pointed, difficult questions during the recording in order to throw you off balance and make you sound unsure or inconsistent about the facts of your case. Any inconsistencies between this statement and previous or future statements you might make can be used to try and devalue your settlement. Again, you should refuse to give any recorded statement and refer the adjuster to your attorney.