Tennessee Car Insurance: Here's What You Need To Know
Recently, a mother called our office regarding her young daughter who had been injured in an auto accident. The other driver was clearly negligent and likely intoxicated. The insurance company called and called, wanting to settle very quickly.
The mother, thinking the daughter only had a sore wrist, accepted the settlement offer from the insurance company before her daughter’s medical treatment was finished Unfortunately, the injury did not heal normally and her daughter needed more treatment. The daughter actually needed extensive treatment, including lengthy physical therapy.
The mother called us wanting to know what could be done to hold the insurance company responsible. The answer was simple. Nothing.
Once the mother signed the release and took the settlement check, her daughter’s case was over. This scenario is a common trap the insurance company uses on injury victims. Insurance companies want you to feel rushed into settling your case, even if you are still receiving medical treatment.
Settling your case early is like taking a final exam after just two weeks in school. You do not have the information you need to achieve a successful outcome. Early in an injury case, you do not know how you are going to recover, or what your long term prognosis is. The answers to these questions make your claim more valuable, so you can see why the insurance company wants to settle your case fast.
Once a car accident happens, you are in a new world with rules and facts you do not know. Often, you will be contacted by your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company. At Weir & Kestner Injury Lawyers, we help injury victims avoid the many pitfalls that await, like settling too early. We have helped thousands of people locally get the case outcomes they deserve. When you call 615-220-HURT, our goal is to Win Your Case and Lose Your Stress.
Deadlines For Filing a Claim
Second, if you are injured, in Tennessee, you have one year from the date of your accident to file a lawsuit. If a year goes by and you do not file a lawsuit, you lose your claim forever. However, before that year is up, there is no need to rush to settle. The insurance company cannot close your case. So take your time and go to the doctor appointments and get feeling better. Do not let the insurance company rush you, you have time.
Get a Copy of the Accident Report
Lastly, obtain a copy of the accident report and try and stay calm when speaking with the insurance company. Remember anything you say will be used against you. If you do speak with the insurance company stick to the facts. They may try and bend the facts or get you to agree to minor changes in what happened. These small changes can lead to big problems. So try and stay calm and stick to your memory of the event.
Car accidents force life-changing consequences. Even with the right car insurance policy and a comprehensive health care plan, victims often struggle to overcome intense physical pain and mounting medical debt. Under Tennessee state law, survivors have a legal right to file an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit against the person, or party, who caused their accident-related injuries. However, dealing with adjusters and securing a fair settlement is rarely easy.
Whose Side is The Insurance Company On?
First, know the other driver’s insurance company is not on your team or your side. They do not care about you or what you are going through. They are trying to close your claim as quickly and cheaply as possible. They are not interested in your injuries or how you are doing. They ask for this information only so they can evaluate your claim and figure out how to best quickly and cheaply close your case.
Typically, the insurance adjusters you will speak with attempt a few different strategies. Some try and be your friend and pretend to care and to be looking out for you. They are not. They want you to trust them so they can quickly and cheaply close your case. Some insurance people ignore you or treat you with some level of hostility. This strategy is designed to make things more stressful, frustrating, and difficult for you so you again close your case fast and cheap.
Understanding the Car Insurance Company’s Intent
Tennessee, like almost every other state in the country, requires a minimum amount of insurance on all registered and roadworthy motor vehicles. While car insurance policies can be expensive, they ensure that accident victims have a recourse if they’re ever injured by another driver’s negligence.
Under the Volunteer State’s fault-based insurance system, accident victims must typically file a claim for compensation with the at-fault motorist’s insurance company. Most companies employ adjusters who investigate claims to determine the extent and value of a victim’s damages. In many cases, the adjuster is an accident victim’s first point of contact regarding their case.
However, speaking to an adjuster is a risk-filled undertaking. Even if the individual is sympathetic to your injuries, they’re beholden to their employer, the insurance provider. Since companies are for-profit businesses, it’s not in their best interest to concede a fair settlement without first putting up a fight. While this may seem inherently unfair, it makes some measure of economic sense: if an insurance company paid every claim without negotiation, it wouldn’t remain profitable for very long.
Importance of Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage
In Tennessee, you must have $25,000 in liability coverage through your auto insurance. This is the minimum coverage you can have in Tennessee. However, too often we see people choose not to include uninsured or underinsured coverage on their policy. This is critically important.
Unfortunately, not all drivers carry the appropriate insurance on their vehicles. If you are hit by someone who does not have insurance, your options are seriously diminished with uninsured or underinsured coverage. Uninsured coverage basically means if you are hit by someone who does not have insurance, you can use your own policy to be compensated for medical bills and pain and suffering. If you do not have uninsured coverage, your chances of recovering money are very limited.
Underinsured motorist coverage applies in situations where the at-fault driver has less insurance available than you. For example, if you have $50,000 in underinsured coverage, and the at-fault driver has $25,000.00 in coverage, there is an additional $25,000.00 you may be able to recovery in your case. Underinsured coverage is the difference between your underinsured coverage and the at-fault driver’s policy limits. So if you have $100,000.00 in coverage and the at-fault driver has $50,000.00, there may be an additional $50,000.00 you can obtain as an award. So in that case, you could receive $50,000.00 from the at-fault insurance carrier and $50,000.00 from your own policy. If you do not carry underinsured coverage, you would be limited to $50,000.00, the at-fault policy maximum, as a realistic recovery. Given the rising costs of medical bills, obtaining the maximum you can in uninsured and underinsured coverage is vital protection to you and your family.
Invest in Gap Insurance After You Buy a Vehicle
Lastly, when you purchase a vehicle, we recommend always investing in Gap insurance. Gap insurance applies when what you owe on the vehicle is more than the vehicle is worth. For example, let’s say you have a car note that has $10,000.00 remaining to be paid but the car is worth $7,000.00. If your car is totaled in an accident, the at-fault insurance company only has to pay the value of the car, here $7,000.00. This leaves you owing $3,000.00 for a car you no longer drive. Gap insurance would pay that difference, the $3,000.00. We see too often people being surprised by these types of situations. Please invest in Gap insurance, at least while you owe more than the value of the vehicle.
Mistakes to Avoid After a Tennessee Car Accident
Insurance adjusters sometimes resort to tactics deliberately designed to minimize the potential value of a car accident claim. So to protect yours, avoid the following.
Apologizing for the Accident
Adjusters are trained negotiators. Whenever you talk to them by yourself, they’re most likely paying close attention to your words, proactively searching for any excuse to offload liability and ensure their employer’s continued profitability.
Simply apologizing for your role in the accident is often enough for an adjuster to claim that you have—in effect—admitted fault, even if you only apologized because you felt you were taking up too much of their time.
Providing a Recorded Statement
You should always avoid making a recorded statement after an accident, even if you believe that the other driver was clearly at fault. While you may eventually have to explain what happened, you’re not obliged to do so immediately or on demand.
Providing a recorded statement alone, without competent legal representation, can be risky. If you misspeak, or are prompted to provide unnecessary information, the adjuster could use these conversations against you in later negotiations.
Signing a Medical Records Release
The insurance company may need to review accident-related medical records to assess the validity of your claim, but they don’t need unbridled access to your entire health history.
How to Protect Your Rights After a Car Crash
Speaking to an adjuster can be nerve-racking, especially when your physical and financial recovery are on the line. However, you don’t have to bear the burden of another motorist’s mistake alone. After a Smyrna-area car crash, take the following steps to keep your recovery safe from potentially predatory adjusters.
Accept Immediate Medical Attention
You should always seek prompt medical attention after a Tennessee car accident, even if you don’t believe you were seriously injured. Some conditions don’t display any noticeable signs or symptoms, so seeing a doctor is often the only way to diagnose—and effectively treat—potentially life-altering injuries, such as internal organ damage, a traumatic brain injury, or whiplash. Furthermore, seeing a doctor demonstrates to an adjuster that you had legitimate concerns about your physical well-being and aren’t simply seeking to profit off an unfortunate accident.
Don’t Accept an Initial Offer of Settlement
If the other motorist was clearly at fault, an insurance company might offer a settlement without negotiation. However, these initial offers of settlement—while sometimes surprisingly generous—rarely account for the totality of a victim’s losses. For example, it may provide compensation for paid medical expenses, but fail to account for a survivor’s anticipated health needs or lost income from work. Even if a settlement seems too good to be true, contact an attorney to conduct a fair and impartial review before signing away your rights.