In this installment of our Adjuster Skills Case Study series, we’re taking what is sure to be the first of many looks at a relatively common statement-taking practice: asking the interviewee to explain the events of the accident before establishing a complete understanding of the accident’s location.  Occasionally, the interviewee may do a very good job of providing context, and the adjuster can get away with minimal ill effects.  In other cases, such as this one, it can significantly derail the process and cause unnecessary confusion.

Furthermore, in this particular case, we’re going to see what can happen when the adjuster attempts to use a map program to understand the accident as the interviewee explains it. 

Excerpt 1

ADJ:      Can you tell me what happened in the accident?

INT:       Sure.  I was traveling on Washington Avenue and it’s two lanes, but one is only to turn left.  So I was going into the shopping center, and I had been in the first lane and then the second lane when a lady was coming out of the shopping center.  She wanted to make a left-hand turn, so she beeped the horn and she looked to the right and stepped on the gas and that’s when she hit the car.

ADJ:      Okay, and I assume the road was two lanes in each direction?  On those two lanes, the lane that you were in, uh, was there, in between the lanes, like a shared turning lane?  Or was there a median or were you just turning from the lane itself?

INT:       It was just a turn-only, a turn-only lane for me.  For me to turn.

ADJ:      Okay, so you could like, you could only… you know what, I’m going to pull up an aerial view on Google Maps of the area.

It’s not clear why the adjuster feels the need to immediately go to Google Maps.  Perhaps they think of it as a shortcut- a bridge to help interviewees articulate details that they would otherwise have difficulty with.  Or perhaps it’s a visual aid- without a visual representation, maybe the adjuster has difficulty framing useful questions to draw out location details. 

Frankly, we don’t recommend this approach.  Companies vary in their opinions on the usefulness of Google Maps during the statement.  It’s certainly a useful tool, but it becomes dangerous when the statement taker allows what they are seeing on Google Maps to supersede what is being spoken by the interviewee.  Remember, the purpose of the recorded statement is to memorialize the interviewee’s memory of the incident in their own words.  With Google Maps, you run the risk of jeopardizing that purpose, for three reasons:

  1. You significantly increase the difficulty of avoiding leading questions, as your mind will now have to compartmentalize what information you are getting from the interviewee, and what you are getting from the visual representation on Google Maps.  You’re significantly more likely to make assumptions or allow yourself to make suggestions if you are looking at Google Maps.
  2. You run the risk of adding misinformation to the claim.  The image on Google Maps is not necessarily indicative of the location at the time of the accident.  If that variance is not addressed, it can lead to misunderstanding.
  3. Time you are spending looking to place the location on Google Maps is time that you could and should be spending using questions to improve your understanding.  In the example above, there’s a decent amount of information already there- a few follow-up questions could help establish the details quite well.  Instead, the momentum that the adjuster has- and possibly the opportunity to quickly and efficiently ask those questions- is lost.

Again, Google Maps is not a bad tool, but it can lead you into trouble if you place more importance on it than on your training as an adjuster and your ability to ask insightful questions.

Excerpt 2

ADJ:      You were trying to make a left-hand turn into what?  What shopping center were you trying to turn into?

INT:       Well, I don’t know what it’s called.  I don’t remember what it’s called.

ADJ:      Okay, where is it?

INT:       It’s where the flea market is.

ADJ:      Flea market?

INT:       It’s a Save-A-Lot.

ADJ:      Save-A-Lot, okay.  Is there a K-Mart there, as well?

INT:       No.

ADJ:      Oh.

INT:       Like where the Arby’s is, see Arby’s?

ADJ:      Um, I see a McDonald’s.

INT:       Okay, right across the Avenue is an Arby’s, right in front of it.  So I had passed the McDonald’s.

ADJ:      Oh, you had.

INT:       After I passed the McDonald’s, there’s an only lane, making, to make a left turn.

ADJ:      Huh…

I’m not going to make you read through the whole transcript, so let’s skip straight to the punchline.  The reason the adjuster is having trouble placing the accident is the interviewee initially misspoke- they said they were traveling on Washington Avenue, which was actually the cross street they had been approaching.  They were actually traveling on Hudson Street.

In most claims, that’s a pretty easy fix: the interviewee might catch it during a follow-up question, or when the adjuster summarizes the accident back to them.  Here, however, because the adjuster is working from Google Maps, they are working to fit everything they are hearing into the context of the interviewee traveling on Washington.  Because of that, we get a few minutes of confusion as adjuster and interviewee go back and forth trying to place landmarks in their respective understandings.  And since the adjuster is looking at Google Maps, they’re the ones prompting the interviewee with the landmarks, which continue to be off-base.  It’s like a really poorly played game of Battleship.

Had the adjuster established the location with questions, the information they needed to more accurately place the vehicles would have already been available to them.  Instead, the foundation to their entire approach is a mistake, and it ruins everything that comes afterwards. 

Excerpt 3

ADJ:      Okay, so you had just passed the McDonald’s and then the O’Reilly’s and then I see you have this little only turn. 

INT:       Yeah. 

ADJ:      Okay, so you were going to turn to go into that Save-A-Lot parking lot.

INT:       Yes, I was going into the shopping center.

ADJ:      And so the other car is leaving that parking lot in a left turn, and it comes out and hits you?  And you’re waiting to turn at this point?

INT:       No, I was already turning.

ADJ:      I thought you said you were in the second lane? 

INT:       I was, of the other direction.  Like I had crossed the first lane of travel and had made it into the second when she hit me.

ADJ:      Oh.  Oh, I see.  So where did the impact occur, then?

INT:       In the middle of the two lanes.

ADJ:      So she hits you, while attempting to make a left turn, while you are in the middle of crossing the two eastbound lanes on Hudson?

INT:       Yes.

Still trying to reconcile their own understanding, the statement has now devolved into a string of recaps, assumptions, or suggestions from the adjuster.  Maybe they don’t trust the interviewee very much, maybe they’re still struggling to place everything, but whatever the reason, the adjuster has essentially abandoned the open-ended questions that are essential to the claim.  Also, making an incorrect assumption can be very annoying to the interviewee this late in the claim, but that’s what happens here, as the adjuster clearly believes the placement the interviewee had referred to for their vehicle had meant the turn lane they had left, not the lanes they were traveling through during the turn.

We don’t judge statements solely on the merit of arriving at a complete, mutual understanding.  That’s an important part of it, to be sure, but it does matter how the statement gets there.  Because of the adjuster’s approach, there is a large portion of this audio that is inconsequential, as they try to reconcile a mistaken location from Google Maps.  They’ve taken more time than necessary, and they’ve endangered their rapport with the interviewee, who may be insured by their company.  Worst of all, they’ve compromised their primary objective, reverting to leading, restrictive questions rather than aiding the interviewee in capturing their perspective.

Practical Advice

  1. Ensure an understanding of the location before you move to asking about the accident.  In future weeks, we’ll share some examples where this is an even more egregious problem, but it still bears mentioning.  The interviewee’s initial answer does a decent job conveying some context about the location, and those parts could have been fleshed out fully had the adjuster stuck to their follow-up questions.  Instead, the interview goes off the rails for something that probably would have worked itself out by asking just a little bit more.
  2. Online map programs are not a crutch.  There is a worthwhile debate to be had on whether Google Maps, and other programs of its ilk, have any place during a recorded statement.  Regardless of where your company falls on this point, you are doing yourself a disservice if you place more stock in what you are seeing on your computer monitor than your ability to listen well, ask insightful questions, and draw out an interviewee’s memory.  

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