Motorists who've been involved in a car crash need to be careful what they say – and who they say it to.
Regardless of who's at fault, your auto insurance company will ask for a statement detailing the events surrounding the crash. The statement -- written or recorded -- will include information about things like the weather and traffic conditions at the time of the wreck.
Typically, an insurance adjuster employed or hired by your insurer will take the statement. You could be asked for several statements from several insurance companies, depending on the number of vehicles involved, says Jonathan D'Agostino, a personal injury attorney in New York.
How a crash statement is used
When determining whether they’re going to pay a claim for damages to your car or property, auto insurance companies rely on several pieces of information, including the crash statement, State Farm spokesman Douglas Nadeau says.
“The statement can help an insurer identify many key details, including the cause of the crash, damage to property, names of witnesses and other parties involved, like passengers and pedestrians, who may need to be contacted,” Nadeau says.
Kate Westad, a personal injury attorney in Minnesota, says the crash statement also can be used to determine whether you have the grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit.
“Any statement taken can be used in a personal injury claim. Once the statement is taken, it's fair game,” Westad says.
Trying to shield yourself in case of a personal injury lawsuit doesn’t mean you can refuse to give a crash statement to your insurance company. Nadeau says policyholders are legally obligated to cooperate with their insurers, and that includes giving your side of the story.
"Refusing to provide a statement could interrupt the processing of the claim,” Nadeau says.
More than that, if you fail to give a statement, your insurer could declare that you've broken insurance contract -- your policy -- and deny your claim, D'Agostino says.
Keep in mind that you're not required to give a statement to another driver's insurance company. Furthermore, you can decide when to provide the statement to your own insurer. Westad adds that it’s fine to decline giving your statement until you've collected more information or you've contacted a lawyer.
Preparing for your statement
Before giving your statement, you may want to return to the crash site to familiarize yourself with specifics like the location of stop signs and traffic signals, the direction you were traveling and the speed limit that was posted, says Frank Darras, an insurance attorney in California.
Review the police report about the crash, too. That contains a lot of valuable information, including who the victims were, how fast the cars were estimated to be traveling, what was damaged and where the skid marks were.
Here are six tips for what to do when you're faced with giving a crash statement:
1. Take a breath. It’s natural to be nervous or tongue-tied if your statement is being recorded. “People often overestimate and guess at things to sound helpful when they’re nervous,” Darras says. Nervous rambling isn’t helpful for you or your claim; avoid it by taking a deep breath to calm down before speaking.
2. Be on your toes. Insurance adjusters are highly trained, skilled communicators, Darras says. “They know all the ways to make you fumble and look foolish or uncertain during a statement,” he says. The best way to avoid reveavling too much or misstating the facts? Stick to answering the questions that you're asked; don't volunteer additional information. “Be brief and accurate,” he says.
3. Clear out the cobwebs. “I have had clients that were seriously injured or on pain medication when the insurance adjuster calls to take their statement," Westad says. "Because of their injury or medicine, they didn’t realize who was calling or have a full understanding of what was being discussed." Be sure you're in the right frame of mind when recalling the accident. “If you are not feeling well or are unsure about the request, it’s OK to tell the adjuster that you need to think about their request and you will call them back later,” Westad says.
4. Ask for clarification. Make sure you clearly hear and understand a question before you respond. If you're uncertain about a question, ask the claims adjuster to repeat or rephrase it.
5. Stay on topic. During the statement-taking process, you may be asked about your injuries. Westad says it's all right to tell the adjuster you want to limit your responses to details of the crash and not mention anything about your injuries. That way, you can avoid uttering something that could be used against you in court if you’re pursuing legal action related to any injuries.
6. Gather documentation. Always ask for a copy of the crash statement, and don't sign anything that hasn't been reviewed by you or your attorney. If you’re asked to sign a copy of your statement, make sure you read it thoroughly for accuracy as well as any fine print.