The difference between a good recorded statement and a bad one often comes down to one simple factor: the adjuster’s ability to listen. Adjusters that devote themselves too rigidly to their format, or fail to capitalize on opportunities to unearth additional information, forfeit a substantial amount of value from their statement. This missing information can potentially be very costly for that adjuster’s company, the claimant, or both.
Good listening, and the ability to capitalize on that listening with specific, timely questions may be an adjuster’s most important skill. In today’s installment of our Adjuster Skills Case Study series, we’ll take a look at a statement where the adjuster’s listening was lacking.
ADJ: Ms. Jones, what happened in the accident?
INT: What happened was, I was driving down 90, and I went to get into the exit lane. But the car in front of me came to an immediate halt, so I tried to switch back over to the lane I was previously in. And as I did so, the car behind me swerved to the right towards the wall barrier, and then corrected back towards me, and hit my passenger front door.
ADJ: Okay. And how many lanes were on this highway?
INT: There is four lanes plus the exit lane at that point. So, five lanes.
ADJ: Okay. And what was the weather like that day?
The question about the number of lanes is fine, although you’d prefer to see the adjuster establish the details about the accident’s location before asking what happened in the accident itself. Regardless, after they ask about the lanes, they pivot to asking about the weather, leaving any further inquiry about the accident behind. This makes it seem like the adjuster now knows all that they need to about the accident. But I have some questions.
How long was the interviewee’s vehicle occupying the exit lane? Why did the vehicle in the exit lane stop? The car that was “behind” the interviewee- was it behind them in their original lane, or was it behind them in the exit lane? When did they first notice that vehicle?
Some of those questions may also lead to follow-up questions. If the vehicle in the exit lane stopped as part of a line of vehicles, did the driver not notice that congestion before attempting to change lanes? If not, why not?
Your understanding of an accident is complete when you can summarize it to another individual, and there is no room for that individual to understand it in any other way than the way you intend. This interviewee’s summary has not reached that point yet. Questions about the timing of events and the location of each vehicle persist, and those questions may play a role in the liability determination.
ADJ: Were you injured in the accident?
INT: Not really. My back is sore though.
ADJ: Okay. Were there any witnesses?
Failing to fully investigate the possibility of an injury is one of the more common missed opportunities in recorded statements and unfortunately, it can be one of the most costly. In this excerpt, because the interviewee answers in the negative, the adjuster decides they have answered enough and moves on with their script. However, the interviewee’s admission that they are experiencing some soreness should still warrant investigation from the adjuster.
In this situation, the adjuster should ask whether the interviewee has been checked out by a medical professional. If yes, they should ask for the medical professional’s information; if not, they should ask whether the interviewee intends to seek medical treatment, and who they might seek treatment with. This thread of questions tends to reveal a wealth of information, as interviewees will often share injury histories or an existing relationship with a chiropractor or other medical professional. In some cases, these questions may cause the interviewee to reveal that they have acquired representation. All of this information is useful to the claim, and it’s easily missed if you stick too closely to your format.
ADJ: Did you have any passengers in your vehicle?
INT: Yes. One.
ADJ: Were they injured in the accident?
INT: No. Not that I’m aware of.
ADJ: Did the police arrive on the scene?
Once again, the adjuster leaves their line of questioning just a little bit early in order to continue with their scripted format. However, once the existence of a passenger is revealed, there is other information that is useful to know beyond whether that passenger was injured. For instance, you should always attempt to get the name, address, and telephone number of any passenger. What is the driver’s relation to the passenger? And where was that passenger sitting in the vehicle?
Collecting this information helps defend the claim against fraud. Jump-in passengers claiming injuries is a common fraud tactic, so it’s important to know exactly who was in the vehicle. Where an individual was sitting can be compared to the point of impact and checked against the injuries for inconsistencies. Furthermore, passenger information can indicate the vehicle was being used as part of a rideshare service, which can have a considerable effect on the outcome of the claim.
Unfortunately, by failing to ask any follow-up questions about the passenger, the adjuster hasn’t collected enough information to be certain that none of the above situations are in play.
- Listen well. The first part of good listening is actually hearing and processing everything the interviewee says. Often, inexperienced adjusters focus too much on the next question in their format. This in itself can be a distraction. If you’re thinking only about when your next opportunity to talk will be, you can miss the important information being shared by the interviewee. And if you miss that, you won’t even have a chance to do our second point, which is…
- …Follow up. Over the course of the interview, there will be a number of opportunities to ask follow-up questions that grant considerable understanding. Don’t try to come back to these questions later- you’re likely to forget to ask them, or have difficulty bringing the interviewee back to that memory later. Experience helps here, as well. The more recorded statements you take, the more you’ll be prepared for all of the various scenarios that may require a follow-up.
There are plenty of other situations that require insightful follow-up questions beyond the ones we’ve shared here. Have your own story? Share it with us on Twitter (@acsacc). Also, to be the first to know about all ACS blog content, click the Subscribe button on our home page.