Recorded Statements: A Trap for the Unwary

Should I provide a recorded statement to the insurance company regarding my accident or injury?

You’ve been in an auto accident that wasn’t your fault. One day shortly thereafter, an adjuster for the insurance company of the person who hit you calls on the telephone and wants you to give a recorded statement telling her how the accident happened and provide her with some personal information. She says she wants to help you, and you certainly need help. She says that all she needs before she can pay you is a brief statement to “firm up liability”. She’s pleasant and seems so nice. Besides, you have nothing to hide because the crash wasn’t your fault. What could be wrong with answering her questions on tape? Plenty!

As a general rule, you should not give an oral or recorded statement concerning a motor vehicle crash to anyone without the advice of an attorney.[1] To understand why it is not in your best interest to make a statement, put yourself in the insurance company’s shoes. An insurance company is in business to make money for its shareholders. Every dollar it pays out in claims to people like you is a dollar lost from the company’s bottom line. Therefore, the top priority for every insurance company employee is to reduce the amount paid out in claims—and that includes yours.

To reduce claims paid, the insurance company must refuse many claims made. To do this, company employees will look for reasons to deny your claim and they may use your recorded statement for this purpose. How?

  • Insurance company employees will compare the statement you gave them with other statements you have made, including statements you gave an investigating police officer or statements you made during your deposition in a lawsuit arising from the accident. Where they find inconsistencies in your multiple statements, and this is not unusual when someone tells the story of his accident more than once, the company could claim you lied and may deny your claim as a result.
  • Insurance company employees will ask questions worded in such a way that they could trap or trick you into responses that hurt your case. You may not even realize this is happening at the time. They may try to push or bully you into agreeing to facts you aren’t certain are completely accurate. You respond “I guess so” just to get the questioner off your back. Unfortunately, that “I guess so” can come back to haunt you later.
  • In a lawsuit, defense counsel can use your recorded statement to cross-examine you at trial or during your deposition. You may not remember exactly what you said in your statement, and as a result, you may contradict yourself in some way. Although you think the discrepancy is inconsequential, the defendant’s lawyer will stress the importance of your misstatement to a jury and use it to convince the jury that your testimony is not believable.

The bottom line is that you should never give a recorded statement to an insurance company representative without the advice and guidance of an attorney. You are under no legal obligation to provide them with any statement at all. When you turn down the representative’s request, be courteous but firm. No matter how friendly or personable they may be when they’re talking to you, always keep in mind that they are employees of the insurance company and represent only its interests—not yours.

[1] There are exceptions to this general rule when your insurance company asks for a recorded statement. You have a duty to cooperate with your own insurance company. Many insurance policies contain contractual provisions that require you to give statements to your own carrier upon request. Even if the policy involved is yours, however, ask your company’s representative to point out the exact language in the policy that he is relying on to make his request. Remember also that your own insurance company may take a position that is adverse to your best interests. It can use your statement against you. Therefore, think carefully about each and every fact you relate in a statement to your own company. It is always best not to give a recorded statement without the advice and guidance of an attorney.