Hi, Clay Morgan here, of the Morgan and Barbary Law Firm in North Brevard County.
After someone has been in an auto accident, I am often asked whether it is acceptable to provide a recorded statement to the insurance carriers, before talking to an attorney. My advice is that it is always better err on the side of caution and talk with an attorney, before giving a recorded statement to an insurance provider or adjuster. An attorney can review the facts of your case with you, and help ensure the way that you state the facts allows for no misunderstandings about how the accident occurred or who was at fault.
I then often hear: “But Clay, you are an attorney. Everyone knows that attorneys known to twist the truth, but my insurance carrier would never do that. If I’m telling the truth, then there will be no problem… right?”. Wrong.
Let me share a recent situation that occurred to my wife following an accident. My wife accidentally ran into another vehicle. She was driving down US-1 in the middle lane, when she glanced in her side mirror and changed into the right lane. Unfortunately, she didn’t see the other smaller car coming up in her blind spot, and she ended up hitting the left front tire area. There was quite a bit of vehicle damage but no one was injured.
My wife felt horrible. She apologized profusely to the other driver advising them the accident was her fault and not to worry. A police officer came to the scene and she told him, unequivocally, that she was at fault in the accident. The policeman agreed and gave her a ticket for her actions. I agreed with her she was at fault, and I assured the other driver that we had insurance that would pay for their property damage. My wife then called our insurance carrier and told them directly that she was at fault in the accident, that she had in fact been ticketed for her action, and that she accepted liability for the accident… all in a recorded statement.
Imagine my surprise when I got a call from the other driver, telling me that my insurance carrier was claiming that he was 20% at fault in the accident. They informed him they were only going to pay 80% of his $5,000 in automobile damage, leaving him to come up with over $1,000 just to get his car fixed. I could not believe it, I immediately called my insurance adjuster who confirmed they put 20% liability on the other driver because: “he saw your wife coming into his lane and he should have taken evasive action to avoid the collision.” I asked to speak to his manager, and the manager repeated the same thing; the other driver should have avoided being hit by your wife. This 20% ruling came from the fact that the other driver phrased his sentence in such a way, that admitted seeing my wife change lanes before she hit him. This gave them what they needed to say he had “comparative” fault of 20%. No amount of argument on my part could convince the insurance carrier that what they were doing was wrong.
The lesson to come out of this for everyone is: no matter how clear the liability against the other party, no matter how right you are, please make sure you talk to an attorney before giving any recorded statement. The way your phrase a certain sentence can result in your being unjustly assessed for “comparative” fault, which could end up costing you money. If the other driver had simply said, “I saw Ms. Morgan coming into my lane but it happened so fast, I had no time to react,” the carrier would have a much harder time finding him partially at fault.
People often think that giving a recorded statement is a simple matter. “The truth is the truth,” as my mother used to say, “and the truth will set you free.” Unfortunately, in my experience, the truth can often be twisted by someone else who has a motive to save money. Insurance companies always have a motive to save money. Protect yourself. Take the time to discuss the facts with an attorney before giving a recorded statement, as it might just save you time and trouble.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns following an accident, call my office to speak directly with an attorney about any legal questions you may have. Or, contact me through my website at legalproblem.com. Don’t go it alone; we are here to help.