Vermont Accident Victims & Insurance Traps: Part #1
Vermont Accident Victims
And Insurance Traps: Part #1
The Recorded Statement
If you get in a serious accident, prepare to be investigated aggressively by the insurance company that represents the at-fault person or organization. The purpose of these investigations is to find ways to limit the money they have to pay to you, the accident victim. The more serious the case, the more serious the investigation—and the earlier it will begin.
One of the first things an insurance company wants after a major accident is a recorded statement from you. Unfortunately, these recorded statements often become a tool to be used against you in subsequent proceedings.
Your Statement Will Be Used Against You
After an accident, injured people are usually eager to tell their story. They want to explain how the accident happened and to describe their injuries and the related consequences, genuinely believing that it will help their case. This impression is usually reinforced by the insurance company representative, who is trained to come across as a caring, trustworthy “friend” interested in helping them document their harms and losses.
But this “friend” actually works for the defendant who caused the injury, and is paid to find ways to undermine your claim. An average person would of course be perfectly willing to cooperate. After all, they have nothing to hide.
Insurance companies have several goals when taking recorded statements from you:
- Limiting the range of claimed injuries to those known and described at the time you give your statement—even though doctors, lawyers and the insurance companies themselves know that many injuries are not immediately apparent and only show symptoms later on;
- Pinning you down to a set of facts, or a manner of expressing or characterizing them, that can be spun in the defendant’s favor; and
- Obtaining information that will give them a head start in investigating your personal life, such as telephone numbers, addresses, online accounts and even social security numbers;
How To Tell Your Side of the Story
Honest injured people only stand to lose by giving a recorded statement to the insurance company of the person who hurt them. While unsuspecting people with nothing to hide are easily persuaded to “tell their side of the story” on tape, the insurance company is really only interested in using the victim’s own words against them. After all, they have a duty to their shareholders to keep costs down, and profits up, by helping the defendants they insure to evade complete responsibility for their negligence.
For this reason, you need to carefully consider whether to agree to give a recorded statement and, if so, how to approach it. These decisions are best made with the assistance, guidance and support of an experienced personal injury lawyer whose professional obligations and incentives are aligned with those of the victim.
Such a counsellor will explain the Hearsay Rule, which means that the victim’s recorded statement is usually admissible at trial. The counsellor may also suggest that the recording be allowed but only under certain conditions, including getting a copy to the victim, or restricting the use of the recording. Your counsellor will also be able to help you honestly and accurately express yourself in ways that will minimize the ability of someone else to spin their words down the line. They will advise you on what information to volunteer, what you should keep to yourself unless directly asked, and what should stay confidential.
The best course of action is to give the interview without it being recorded. In that case, the rules of evidence would require the claims representative or private investigator to personally testify about what you supposedly said. That person is subject to cross-examination and impeachment by the victim’s own lawyer—who will be free to point out that the interviewer was working on behalf of the defendant, if not for the defendant’s insurer. This option should satisfy any insurer who is truly interested in documenting, rather than deconstructing, your claim. And it keeps control of the facts where they belong: With you, the victim, not a careless defendant’s insurance company.