by Richard Schroeder
If you are a regular reader of this column, you may recall my sermon about the many reasons why insuring you and your bike is smart. Filing a claim with your insurance company after an accident is a cakewalk compared to the potential financial and legal mess that comes if you are uninsured and are involved in an accident. However, if you do have to file a claim, make sure you get the most from your motorcycle insurance by knowing your insurance policy coverage and limits and your rights and obligations under state law.
Guidelines for how you should be treated by a claims adjuster are spelled out in the Minnesota Unfair Claims Practices Act, which regulates claims practices of insurance companies. Here are some examples:
In most cases, when a claim is filed, the insurance company has 30 business days from the date it receives notification of the claim to complete an investigation and to inform the insured or claimant of acceptance or denial of the claim. At the time an insured files a claim, he or she should be notified by the insurance company of all available benefits or coverages that may be applicable from the policy’s coverage.
An insurer or adjuster engages in unfair settlement practices when he or she advises a claimant not to obtain the services of an attorney or suggests that payment of the claim will be delayed if an attorney is retained by the claimant. An insurer or adjuster cannot demand information that would not affect the settlement of the claim.
A fair settlement consists of a clear explanation of what the payment or settlement is for, does not make an offer of partial settlement contingent upon agreement to settle another part of the claim, and does not threaten rescission, cancellation or renewal of a policy as an inducement for settlement. Wisconsin also has a state law pertaining to the handling of claims. In addition, Wisconsin claims adjusters can be subject to civic penalties if they act in “bad faith” when handling a claim.
Most insurance adjusters aren’t the life-size monsters of our childhood nightmares. I like to believe this, since I used to be one. However, adjusters aren’t the respectful, schmoozing insurance agents who send you a promotional calendar and Christmas card each year. They have separate and distinct functions, purposes and agendas.
When filing a claim, you may be asked by your adjuster for a statement describing the incident from your perspective and memory. Be extremely careful with what you say and how you choose your words. I urge all claimants to contact an attorney before making a statement.
If you have already given a statement, exercise your right to request a written copy of the initial statement and promptly submit any changes or corrections back to the adjuster. Also, request copies of all your documents in your insurance claims file — it is your claim and your file.
Beware of all claims forms, releases or waivers. Understand fully the documents you are asked to complete and sign. If you feel you are being pressured for a signature, ask for more time, and seek legal advice immediately. Most attorneys will review these at no charge.
I’ve had clients in the past who, after serious accidents that “totaled” their bikes, were caught between their bank loan pay-off and the insurance settlement. Do your best to engage your banker and insurance adjuster in an honest discussion of your situation. You may have to research the market value of your totaled bike more extensively in order to persuade the adjuster to increase the settlement amount.
An adjuster’s chief goal is to keep to a minimum the insurance company’s outlay of cash on any claim. At premium payment time, the adjuster’s success is seen in part by the conservative increase or decrease in rates. However, as claimants, our immediate concern is not future premium rates, but rather the timely and fair resolution of the claim we have filed with the insurance company.
Make the most of your policy and coverage. Know what to expect if you ever have to file a claim. Ask for help. Drive safely.
Richard Schroeder is an attorney with Michaelson, Schroeder & Mandel. Licensed in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Mr. Schroeder handles cases involving motorcycle and auto accidents, personal injury, insurance disputes, and product liability.
This column is intended to provide general information and is not to be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any certain facts or circumstances. Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly encourages readers to consult legal counsel on any specific legal questions or matters.