Gary Bell: Today, we’re talking about how do you file a claim. You’ve been injured in a car crash, that’s our usual example, that’s our usual scenario. You’ve been injured in a car crash, you’re about to file a claim with the insurance company. Exactly what do you do? We’re going to back up a little bit at the scene of the crash and talk about pictures, talk about what you do with witnesses.

Brad, this is a complicated subject. If you’re able medically, the first thing you do is take care of yourself medically. If you’re able to do these things medically, we’re going to give you some tips today.

Brad Pollock: Right. Obviously a lot of what you’re going to do at the scene of the accident is necessary for you to be able to make your claim, but if you’re injured or if you’re not thinking clearly or if you need help or something else is going on, you may not be able to do some of these things. That’s when you’re going to want to fill in some of the gaps with people who are on your side before you go talking to the insurance company, who is not on your side.

If you think the insurance company’s on your side, they’re not.

Don’t think “Well I’ve been with ’em for 20 years or 25 years,” so you’re going to be able to call ’em up and say “I’ve been here insured for 25 years,” and think that makes a difference. It makes no difference. They don’t care how long you’ve been with them. What they care about is how they can avoid paying you a lot of money. That’s for your own insurance company. When it’s the other insurance company, obviously you haven’t been with them at all, and they could care less about you.

Their bottom line is how they can avoid paying money period, so don’t be thinking that these insurance companies want to help you. They don’t.

Gary Bell: You don’t want to fall into that trap, because it is a trap. We hear it everyday. We’ve been representing injured victims for over 25 years. We help families put their lives back together again. It’s a step-by-step process. It’s not an immediate transition. It’s not immediate gratification. It is a step-by-step process, and you’d better know the steps. That’s what we try to teach you on this show.

Brad was raising some good points. Don’t fall into this false trap. My insurance company, gee, I pay them a premium. Sure you do. They’re not going to want to pay. The other insurance company, Brad made an excellent point, is they’re your enemy. You’ve never dealt with them before. They are really not going to want to pay you, so you’ve got to make the claim in the right way. You’ve got to explain what happened in the accident, you’ve got to be able to prove when you’re making your claim what happened in the accident. Here’s some tips for handling the accident scene.

Brad Pollock: The first tip is when you’re going to talk to them, and when you’re explaining what happened, you can explain what happened.

If they want to take a recorded statement, the answer is no. No. If they want to take a recorded statement under oath, the answer is no.

You’re going to tell the other side “I’m not giving that to you.” One of the interesting things about this, and we’re talking about two things. When you’re reporting the claim to your own insurance company, a lot of times when you’re reporting the claim to your own insurance company, the only real reason, if you haven’t been negligent, you’re reporting it, is maybe because you want to get your car taken care of by your own insurance company instead of the other side for a basic reason that the other side might jerk you around a little bit more. Your own company might be a little easier. You’re going to have to pay the deductible, but when you pay the deductible, you hope that your own insurance company or somebody’s going to go after the other side for that deductible.

Basically, most of the communications you’re going to have about an accident is going to be with the other side’s insurance company. That means the negligent party’s insurance company. As Gary said at the beginning, they’ve been trained. If I said to you “Hey, you can go get a job at Progressive Insurance or Geico or Statefarm or any one of them, and you can go in and get on the phone and start taking information and be an adjuster and take information concerning, from the other side, when they’ve been in an accident. Guess what, you don’t have to do any training. You can just sit down and do it. You don’t have to look at anything, you don’t have to get prepared, you don’t have to talk to anybody, you can just sat down and do it.” That’s how they hire their people. You say that’s not believable. You say “I don’t believe it. It isn’t going to happen.” You’re right. It isn’t. You expect insurance companies to train their adjusters and to take their intake people on car accidents.

Yet, when you call them up and you go to talk to them, you don’t stop and think “Well wait a minute. I’m not trained. I haven’t had a chance to review things. I haven’t had anybody tell me how it’s supposed to be done.” The first thing on how to make your own claim is talk to an attorney. Talk to somebody who’s been through it and can give you advice and information about what you’re dealing with.

Gary Bell: Right. You don’t have to hire the attorney. You can get a free initial consultation. You can get ’em with us, we’ll be glad to talk to you.

You know, the thing about it is we’ve learned over the years of our experience is that people don’t know the answers to these questions. Come on in. Give us a call, we’ll give you the answers to the questions. More importantly, at Bell and Pollock, we’re going to give you a legal game plan. What does that mean? What’s a legal game plan? It’s a legal game plan of what you need to do, to legitimately do, to protect your rights from that point forward for the next few weeks, months, years, whatever your injuries are going to last. It’s a legal game plan of how the insurance company’s going to try to beat you, defeat you, and attack your claim. It’s an educational process.

Brad Pollock: Sure. When you’re making your claim, they’re going to be asking you a lot of questions.

Whether or not you’re going to be able to answer any or all of those questions is going to be very, very contingent upon how you were at the scene of the accident, what you were able to do. A lot of times, when you go to see the lawyer, the lawyer’s going to ask you information. You don’t have it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people sit down, and when we start going over the accident, they don’t have essential information. Because of that, I have to try and fill that in.

The first thing I’ll ever tell people when they sit down with me is I tell them “Quit talking to the adjusters. Don’t talk to ’em. Let me take over reporting your claim.” Now we’re going to go out, we’re going to get the information that’s going to be necessary to report your claim in a proper and accurate manner.

The first thing is at the scene of the accident, where there pictures taken?

If pictures were taken, what were they taken of?

Were they taken of injuries?

Were they taken of how people were hurt?

Were they taken of the cars and how they were damaged?

Were they taken of the road?

Were they taken of the manner in which the paint and the striping was on the road, and the directions, and the signs that were at the road at the time? Were they taken of where the debris from the cars fell when the cars smashed?

Were they taken of any skid marks that might be on the road that can be attributed to either car?

Those are important things for us.

Were they taken of where fluids leaked out of the car because your radiator was bashed in, and there’s fluid on the ground?

Were they taken of any blood that might’ve been on the ground from severe injuries?

All these things are things that, when getting the claim together, you want to know what photos you have. Of course, you want to try and find out what photos the other side has.

When making a claim, when I’m talking to the other side, I believe that making that claim requires a give and take. It requires the adjuster for the other side, for the negligent party, to give me information. If he wants to trade information and have a free flow of information, then I want information coming back to me. I want to know if he’s got photos. I want to know if his insured had any of that information that we just discussed and be able to get it back. One of the first things in making a claim is do you have photos ready to go?

Gary Bell: Right. You’ve covered a world of very important things for people to understand and know about at the scene, if you can do it medically. The first thing you gotta do is take care of yourself medically. If you need help, you go in the ambulance, you go to the emergency room, you go to urgent care, period.

They always try to use that against you because the insurance companies always say later “Well you didn’t go to the emergency room. You didn’t go to urgent care. You didn’t, you didn’t, you didn’t, you should’ve, you should’ve, and you didn’t.” You see how this works. We’re giving you the tips today on how to file a claim. Next week, we’re going to get into more detail on the scene, what you do at the scene. Part of what you do at the scene, and you’re going to want to listen to that show, believe me, part of what you want to do is take pictures. Brad was right. You got debris. Look at this.

I want to give you a real-life example. No names, obviously, but a real-life example in the years past where somebody was in a rear-end accident, they rear-ended them, they were injured pretty severely. The insurance company says “Well there’s no bumper damage, or very little. There’s less than $200 of bumper damage. You can’t be injured because there’s not much bumper damage, not much property damage,” but the client in that case later was smart enough to take pictures of the hitch and the back. The hitch was bent almost to 90 degrees. Really? Well so there’s no bumper damage, but the hitch is damaged. There was undercarriage damage. Do not let them take you down this primrose path. You’ve got to be able to understand what you need to do to protect your rights.

Gary Bell: Injured and confused?

Confused about your injuries?

Confused about the insurance company?

Confused about which attorney to hire?

Let’s talk about attorneys. Let’s get real clear on attorneys. I’m Gary Bell of the law firm of Bell and Pollock. You get to choose your attorney.

How do you choose?

Experienced? Yes.

Handles only injury cases? Yes.

Someone the insurance company knows? Yes.

Attorneys who have been very successful representing their clients? Yes.

Attorneys who don’t deal in a hodgepodge of everything, only injury cases? Mandatory.

Attorneys who know all the tricks of the insurance company? Absolutely.

By the way folks, when you file a claim, it’s just not, just like a little letter. It’s a full, formal claim. This trading of information is critical.

Brad Pollock: Right. Here, let’s go to step one.

Step one is at the scene of the accident, if you are able, you’ll get this information. If not, a police officer will get it for you. The first thing you get, is you get the other side’s insurance company. You get to know who their insurance company is. Now you’ve got to call that insurance company. If you call most insurance companies, they’ll have numbers associated with it. You’re able to, at that point, and some of the cards even say “In case of an accident, call this number.” You’ll call up, and you’ll open a claim. You’ll say “I’ve been in an accident. Your insured ran into me,” or “Your person, somebody who you provide insurance for ran into me. I want to open up my claim,” or “I want to make a claim.” They’re going to say “Okay, let us get you to somebody who you can talk to.”

That’s where you’re starting to go down a path.

This path is a path that every step you take, you may be getting deeper and deeper into the woods where you’re not going to have a point of return. The first thing they’re going to do, is they’re going to send you over to an adjuster, and the adjuster’s going to want your name, phone number, they’re going to ask if you have any insurance, what your insurance number is, and that kind of information.

You can start putting the adjuster to the test pretty quick. One of the things you can ask the adjuster is “Well, has your insured called you?” Find out there’s been a call. “Oh, we don’t know if there’s been a call.” Well look up the name. If the insured called and reported an accident, they can look up the name. If their insured hasn’t called, I can tell you right now you may still want to continue with the phone call. A lot of times it depends on the attitude of the adjuster and what’s going on. That insurance company is not going to do one thing to address your claims, your damages, your problems, until such time as they hear from their own insured. They’re not going to do it. They may try and call their insured, but if they can’t get their insured, they’re not going to talk to you very much. They may take a bunch of information, but they’re not going to help you.

Gary, you talked before, where you’ve got to watch out when you’re talking to a property damage adjuster versus a personal injury adjuster in what you’re going to say.

Gary Bell: Right.

Brad Pollock: You want to find out what kind of adjuster you have.

Gary Bell: Exactly.

The property damage adjuster has no business asking you “Well were you injured?”

What has that got to do with property damage?

“What are your injuries?

Are you treated with a doctor?

Have you ever had neck problems before?”

Okay, what I’m going to tell you right now, is pre-existing conditions.

Listen to this very carefully. These insurance adjusters want to know about your pre-existing conditions. Some of them might be relevant later when you make the formal claim, but they’re not relevant now when you make the first phone call, and they may not be relevant when you make the formal claim, which is what we’re talking about today. If you injured your neck, they’re not entitled to know you got a foot injury 10 years ago, or if you’re a female that you have OBGYN issues, or you have gynecological issues. They’re not entitled to know this, and there’s case law telling them that, but they want you to sign a release to get all your medical records. You don’t have to do that. Did you hear this? You don’t have to do that. You should not do that. Pre-existing conditions is one way you file a claim, but you’ve got to handle them in a certain way.

Certainly, if you’re going to file a neck injury claim and you’ve previously had neck problems, that’s going to be relevant to the claim, but it has to be handled and protected in a certain way. You’re going to file the claim when your injuries damages and losses. Let’s talk about that a little bit. How does somebody approach this?

Brad Pollock: That’s going to be an interesting part, but the first thing is, is before you ever call to make the claim, sit down and go through in your own mind, what are my injuries, damages and losses.

What am I going through right now?

If, for any reason, any reason, you’re not certain that they’re complete, you’ve got to make sure that you’re able to tell the adjuster “Look. Right now, this is where I’m at right now. I’m continuing to treat. I’m continuing to have problems. I continue to have pain, even if I’m not treating. The doctor said to come back if I needed additional treatment, and I’m still having headaches every day. You can’t look at the adjuster, you can’t tell the adjuster “I’m doing okay,” because you’re not doing okay. Okay is where you’ve returned 100% to the way you were pre-accident. If you’re not 100% to the way you were pre-accident, you’re not doing okay. If you’re having what you think are minor aches and pains, they may not be minor aches and pains. They may be very significant problems that have yet to surface, or that are going to be there continually until you have surgeries, or to have significant physical therapy, or other kinds of care.

Gary Bell: Well not only that, but look at this example here.

Your in an accident, you call up the adjuster on day one, maybe day two. They’re going to ask you what your injuries are. If you tell them, or if you tell them I’m fine, they think you’re fine, there’s no injuries. They don’t talk to you maybe for another month, maybe two weeks, maybe a month and a half.

Now you say “Well I’ve injured my neck, my low back, my left arm, etc.” They say “Well that’s funny. How funny is that? You didn’t tell me that when I talked to you a month and a half ago. You didn’t tell me you injured your neck. You didn’t say anything about your back. You didn’t say anything about your left arm. You said you were fine. Now we think, as the insurance company, you’re making it up, and now we’re not going to pay you.”

You’ve got to be very careful, because Brad, we’ve preached time and time again that if you talk to the insurance adjuster on day one, maybe some of your symptoms haven’t even onset. Some people have an accident, they think they’re okay, they go home, they can’t get out ofbed the next morning they’re so sore. Why are you telling the adjuster everything’s okay, or it’s just only my left arm, and then in the morning you discover it’s your neck as well? They’re going to say “Well you only reported your left arm, dummy.” Are you understanding this?

Brad Pollock: Believe me, they will start right away. If you’re in an accident at 10 o’clock in the morning and it’s recorded to the insurance company, they’ll start trying to call you by noon. They’ll start trying to call you to get immediate information about what’s gone on that they can record, that they can take and use against you before you’ve even had a chance to figure out what’s going on.

Now, most of the time, you’re looking to get your car repaired, or you’re looking to get a loaner car, to get something you can drive because you need transportation.

That’s a different department.

Make your claim for your car, your property damage, with the proper adjuster, the property adjuster, to get that matter moving forward. That property adjuster should not be asking, and you should not be telling the property adjuster anything about your physical injuries. Nothing.

You shouldn’t be giving them releases for your physical injuries, you should be only dealing with the property. There’s the first part about the claim. The property damage, make it to the property adjuster.

Now, you’ve got to be careful there, because they have their preferred shops. Some of those shops, not all of them, but some of them will use aftermarket parts. Some of them will give routine reductions in the amounts they charge to the insurance companies.

Why is that important? Because later on, they’re going to look and they’re going to say “Well your damage was only $500.”

What’s happened is you got into a shop that’s using aftermarket parts, lower-quality parts, not the original replacement parts, and they’ve given a reduction in their rates, and they failed to look for undercarriage or other significant problems in the car. Because of all those situations, they’re looking and saying “You’ve only had minor damage to your car,” when actually the damage might be much greater.

Gary Bell: Right. Then they say to you “Well that’s the way it is.” That’s not the way it is. Let’s tell you the law.

The law says when the other person has damaged you, we’re talking about property damage and we’re talking about personal injuries. Right now they’ve damaged you, property damage.

They are required to put you back in the place that you would’ve been and were had the injury not occurred.

Let’s listen to that statement again. The wrongdoer, the person at fault, is required to put you back in the place that you were. That’s not used parts. That’s not secondhand parts. That’s not aftermarket parts. That’s where you were. It is amazing to me how many try to say “Well that’s just the way it is.” It’s not “the way it is,” and you shouldn’t fall for it.

Let’s talk a little bit about filing a claim for your injuries.

You’re going to treat with medical doctors. You’re going to treat with therapists, whatever your treatment’s going to dictate or mandate. You must be compliant. Then when you file your complaint, you’re going to give over the records, but there’s a certain way to turn over the records because you want them protected, confidential, and HIPAA protected.

Brad Pollock: That’s right. Basically, in our office, we like to get the records first and look at them.

We get them with regard to the injuries coming from the accident, not anything else. We like to look at them to make sure nothing else has been put into the records concerning any discussions you might’ve had that discloses information about injuries or physical conditions that have nothing to do with your accident and that should remain your private information. Your entitled private information, your medical condition, is not available to everyone.

When you’re making your claim, the first thing you want to do is you want to isolate that the only information that’s going to be going to them to the other side, is about your own physical injuries resulting from that accident, not other physical conditions that you might have.

Gary Bell: Right, and think about this. Think about when you go to a doctor, you’ve been injured, you go to the doctor, you fill out their, some of them call it a questionnaire. What’s your name? What drugs or medication are you on, etc.? Think about, is the insurance company entitled to that document?

Brad Pollock: Right. Now you think this is innocent, and if you’re going to a doctor they’ve asked you to go to or they recommended, then you don’t want to answer those questions. That’s not necessary.

Your answer to that is “Refuse to answer,” or “Don’t need to answer.

We’re dealing just with my arm injury or with my back injury. They don’t need to know what other conditions you’ve had. If it’s your own doctor, they may have that medical history, but you’ve got to understand, what you’re filling out at that point, is going to go to the record to the other side. Don’t be giving that information on the questionnaire. Ask and try to focus the information you’re giving on the questionnaire to only that information which is relevant to the injury you’re there to see the doctor about for that particular visit.

I know doctors ask these questionnaires and it’s hard to look at your doctor and say no, but think about it this way. If you called up your doctor and say “Doctor, I’m having a sore throat. I’d really like to get something for my sore throat,” and the doctor says “Come on in,” it’s your own doctor. You go in and give him information for a sore throat, do you expect a questionnaire that’s going to cover your entire life history, or going to cover whether or not you’ve ever had any other problems?

Even if you got it, you look and say “No, I’m just here for my sore throat,” and you give it back to him. That’s what you want to do with the doctors when you’re doing these questionnaires.

Gary Bell: Right. That’s the goal. All right, the Bell and Pollock legal show. I’m Gary Bell, along with Brad Pollock. We are injury attorneys. We are located at I-25 and Greenwood Village. We have an office in Steamboat Springs. We cover cases all over the state of Colorado. We’re glad to do this show. You can call us at (303) 795-5900. In the mountains, (970) 870-8989. We are Colorado’s premier injury law firm, and we are your champions of the people.