Initiating A Personal Injury Claim In Washington

A close-up image of a section of a form with highlighted text reading “INJURED WAS (‘X’ ONE)” and options below for identifying the injured as a passenger, pedestrian, bicyclist, or other.

In Washington, a personal injury claim is initiated when a claim is opened with the relevant insurance company providing insurance for the loss. The insurance company then assigns a claim number and a claims representative to investigate the claim to determine what happened. Once the investigation is complete, the insurance company representative sets out to resolve the claim for as little money as possible.

When the Insurance Company Calls

The at-fault party's insurance company exists to protect their insured from your claim. Its job is to resolve your case as quickly and cheaply as possible, in order to protect their insured from a financial loss and to spend as little insurance company money as possible.  If an insurance company can save a thousand dollars on a thousand cases, it makes a million dollars.

After a claim is opened with an insurance company in Washington, the company will try to contact you as soon as possible. Insurance companies are aggressive in getting you to settle your case before you understand the full extent of your injuries. They very often promise to pay all your medical bills for the next three months and give you a thousand dollars. Do not be fooled, however. Their goal is to get you to settle and accept the payment before the full extent and cost associated with your injuries is known. Do not let desperation cloud your judgment such that you take a lowball offer worth thousands less than your actual losses.

The Weaknesses Claim Adjusters Look For

Claim adjusters look for anything that breaks the narrative of your case. As a claimant, you have the burden of proof; that is, you must prove that the other person was negligent, caused your injuries or damages, and the amount of those injuries and damages.  These are the necessary elements of a claim: negligence, causation, and damages.

Insurance companies make most of their money in fighting the causation element. Thus, they muddy the waters of what injuries your collision caused. They will probe into your past to find any prior injuries or medical treatment you received. For example, if you are rear-ended, and you have neck pain, but you had neck pain three years ago, and you went to a chiropractor to have it treated, they will dig up records of these visits and argue that you had neck pain all along. Thus, they will argue, the collision did not cause you any injuries.

They will look for “gaps in treatment”, or a period where you did not receive any treatment. Finding one justifies their argument that you would have sought treatment sooner if you were hurt. People often wait some time before seeking treatment following a collision because they think they are fine or will shortly recover on their own, among other reasons. Do not do this if you are ever in this situation—get checked out by a healthcare provider.

On top of this, claims adjusters/investigators will also search for posts on social media that seem to contradict your claim. For example, if you were involved in an auto accident but have pictures of yourself skiing the following day, they can leverage this to essentially end your case. They have people that will scour your digital footprint, looking for anything that can destroy your credibility.

What You Must Know About Interacting with A Claims Adjuster

Claims adjusters are human beings like anyone else; their behavior and demeanor vary person by person. They may be very friendly, or they may be rude and criticize you. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that they are simply working professionals: they deal with cases similar to yours all day, every day. They know what they are doing, what to say, and how to say it. They have been trained how to manipulate you to settle your case for as little as possible.

If you speak to one, know they cannot record your voice without your knowledge in Washington, and will ask or let you know the conversation is being recorded. At a minimum they will take detailed notes of your conversation. They will also ask for a recorded statement from you in your case. Like with anything else, if there is anything in your recorded statement that is inconsistent with events before or after the statement is taken, they will use that against you.

For this reason, it is best not to talk to them by yourself. It is in your best interest to hire a lawyer to interact with them on your behalf. When you have an attorney working with you, the insurance company can no longer talk to you directly. They must speak to your attorney. Your attorney can then control the information flow and the narrative of your case, allowing you to focus on getting better.

If the other driver’s insurance company contacts you prior to hiring a lawyer, it is best not to talk to them.  When they ask, “How are you doing?” it is best to say, “I don’t know.” Instead of saying something like, “Oh, I’m fine” or “I’m doing okay”.   This is merely stating the truth for questions you do not know the answer to—you don’t know how injured you are following a collision until you have completed the necessary follow-up medical care.   By not speaking to them, you are protecting yourself from saying something that will just be twisted and used against you later. While it may be safe to talk to them about the property damage to your car and getting your car fixed, it is not safe to speak to them about your injuries. This is especially true early on in your case when you do not yet have a proper medical diagnosis.

Incidentally, in some cases, insurance adjusters have to tell you your rights, typically surrounding the statute of limitations of your claim. This is generally three years in Washington state. They usually inform you of this to raise it as a point of defense later on. For example, if you do not do anything about your injury for four years, your case will be dismissed since they informed you of the three-year statute of limitations.

In order to, access your medical provider and/or medical records, they will send you a HIPPA form. This is a medical record release. It allows them to retrieve medical records from every provider who ever treated you. With it, they will attempt to obtain your entire medical history.  So, if you have a prior claim that is in an insurance database, they will seek to get those medical records and find your prior medical providers.

For more information on Initiating A Personal Injury Claim In WA, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (206) 900-9342 today.