Automobile Claims Investigation


AUTOMOBILE CLAIMS INVESTIGATION

By: Douglas C. Fitzpatrick, Esq.

Resolution of any auto claim involves a 3-step process: (1) an investigation of the pertinent facts, (2) evaluation of those facts, and (3) negotiation of a settlement. Investigation, the first step, is perhaps the most important, without which there is nothing to evaluate and little prospect of meaningful negotiation.

A thorough investigation uncovers evidence having to do with liability (who was "at fault") and damages. A primary objective of the investigation process is to provide the insurance adjuster with documentation to justify payment of a larger settlement. A thorough investigation generally results in a more adequate settlement. Ultimately, the insurance company will conduct its own evaluation and authorize the adjuster to pay out the claim at or below a specified monetary limit.

Your best approach in the investigation of most auto claims is to follow these common sense steps:

1. Get a copy of the accident report from the law enforcement agency where the accident occurred. Though the format varies with each state, key features are consistent. All reports are accessible and offer a wealth of valuable information.

2. Take plenty of photographs (a disposal camera with colored film works)

a. Snap any damage to the automobile—interior as well as exterior;

b. Photo any visible evidence of injuries;

c. Shoot the accident scene (e.g., skid marks, gauge marks in the asphalt, signs or objects which may have obscured the motorist’s vision).

3. Have your mechanic inspect the car for any hidden damage that is not observable to the naked eye or in a photograph. Ask the mechanic to take notes for future reference.

4. Investigate the identity and whereabouts of any witnesses to the accident and arrange to get their written statements as soon as possible. If you dally, you risk fuzzy thinking, which could sabotage your case.

5. When treatment for accident-related injuries is complete, round up all itemized invoices from all doctors and health care providers along with corresponding medical records.

6. If the evidence supports a claim for future treatment, obtain a letter from your physician that says so, along with a tally of the cost of such future treatment.

7. If there is a loss of income as a result of your injuries, document such time loss with records from your employer. Such documentation should show your rate of pay, the exact days you missed work because of the accident, and the amount of money you would have earned.

8. Keep a journal or diary to document any loss of lifestyle, pain and discomfort experienced as a result of accident-related injuries. Documenting these elements will provide useful information in assembling a settlement package for the insurance company. If you haven’t kept a journal with respect to the impact of the accident-related symptoms on your routine daily activities, recreate one.

Leave no stone unturned in documenting every aspect of your claim. When the claims adjuster sees that you have done your homework, you’ll make his or her job easier in settling the matter for what the claim is worth.

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This article was authored by Douglas C. Fitzpatrick, Esq. who is a sole practitioner in Sedona, Arizona. He may be reached at fitzlaw@sedona.net .