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Insurance Corner: Know what your car insurance covers before you have an accident

Apparently I ruffled some feathers among the plaintiff attorneys here in Macon with my article last month. That was not my intent. Certainly there has been a proliferation of attorney advertising as well as insurance companies selling their products. They can both be misleading.

My message was that if you are involved in an auto accident you first need to report that accident to your insurance company and/or the company of the other party if they are at fault. Let me add that fault is not determined by the police if they are called to the scene, but by the insurance companies through an investigation of the facts of the accident including statements from the parties involved, witness statements if there are any and possibly accident reconstruction. Certainly if one party is given a ticket by the police that points fault in their direction.

If you feel your company is not giving you the service you are paying for, you have every right to retain an attorney. If you feel you cannot communicate with the other party’s insurance company and it is not giving you a fair settlement, an attorney might be your best tactic. Remember, your attorney will take the case on a contingency basis. Make sure the attorney explains to you all the fees involved and the attorney’s percent of the settlement if you do get compensation from the other party’s carrier before you sign a letter of representation. Once you sign that letter you give up the right to communicate to the adverse insurance company and all communication must go through your attorney.

The insurance contract you accept when you apply and pay for an insurance policy is a unilateral contract. That means it is written by and interpreted by the insurance company. You had no input into the policy language. Fortunately, most auto insurance contracts are very similar and must be approved by the state insurance department. It has a consumer hotline residents of the state can contact if they ever feel the insurance company is not treating them fairly. In Georgia, that contact information can be found online at the Georgia Department of Insurance consumer hotline through Google or Yahoo.

The best thing you can do as a consumer is know what you are paying for. Know what coverage you need for your vehicles, shop price and read the policy contract or have the agent explain it to you. It is much better to know what to expect before you have an accident than be surprised when you do have one. Your vehicles are your assets and you are paying to protect them with your money. Be smart.

Dave Pushman is the former regional vice president of Geico in Macon and is now an independent insurance agent with Tidwell and Hilburn Insurance. He can be reached at davep@th-ins.com.

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