Let’s talk insurance: An ounce of prevention: Call insurer immediately after accident

by Mark J. Ram

Imagine one of your drivers has an accident in the U.S. with another vehicle, and the injured third party, a dentist, breaks his shoulder. As a result, the dentist can no longer raise his arm above his head.

The accident was bad enough, but it can get far worse – specifically, for you. How much worse may depend on whether you report that accident immediately and directly to your insurance company. If you get into an accident in which a third-party individual is involved, there’s a chance you’re going to get sued – especially if that accident occurs in the U.S. As with any lawsuit, preparation is key.

Calling your insurer directly and immediately after an accident when third-party individuals are involved can make a dramatic difference in your insurer’s ability to defend you in a lawsuit.

Immediate notification provides your insurer with the crucial tools needed to attempt to negotiate a fair settlement, which could mean the difference between an accident costing hundreds of thousands of dollars – or millions.

However, let’s say you report this accident a week later, long after the accident scene was cleaned up and evidence is no longer available. The injured dentist contacts a high-priced lawyer experienced in suing Canadian truckers. The lawyer builds a case with an expert witness, a doctor who paints a bleak picture: The dentist will require several operations and care for many years, and he may never work in dentistry again.

Once the case goes to a jury, you could now be looking at a verdict reaching $5 million or more. In fact, such verdicts have become increasingly typical for U.S. lawsuits involving Canadian truckers.

One timely phone call is all it takes.

Immediate and direct reporting enables your insurer to get to the accident scene, interview witnesses, photograph vehicles, measure skid marks, talk to police and document evidence. Armed with this information, it’s often possible for your insurer to avoid a lawsuit by settling the claim fairly and quickly.

According to recent research, claims reported two weeks late and involving third-party injuries had settlements 18 per cent, on average, higher than those reported immediately. Five-week delays saw costs jump to 48 per cent.

These unnecessary increases are often much worse in long-haul trucking. Canadian carriers hold insurance policy limits in the millions of dollars. That’s like honey to the bees – attractive limits for U.S. lawyers who are motivated by contingency fees of up to 40 per cent. Therefore, you’re squarely in the driver’s seat when it comes to arming your insurer with the tools needed to defend you in court.

How you report losses also makes a big difference. Too often, we receive loss reports by fax, e-mail and even by Canada Post.

Unfortunately, by the time we receive the correspondence, we’ve lost valuable time to investigate and properly defend you. Markel, like many insurance companies, provides a 24-hour telephone hotline for reporting accidents immediately and directly. Call us. The sooner we learn of an accident, the sooner our expert claims team can do their jobs for you. To ensure our claims team is dispatched as soon as possible, your first call must be to your insurance company – not to your insurance broker. Too often, the broker gets the call first, while the insurer isn’t notified for hours or even days. This delay can make a huge difference. Your broker is an important part of the process and must be notified about an accident – but only after you’ve notified your insurance company first to let its claims team get to work right away.

What about smaller losses? While it’s not practical to report every small dent, failing to report accidents involving a third party could be more expensive than you think. Third parties seeking payouts report injuries and make claims weeks – or even months – after the accident. If that’s the first notice of the accident we receive – and it often is – crucial evidence is likely to be long gone, resulting in a potentially huge increase in the final payout.

Immediate and direct reporting is completely in your control.Whether a large accident or minor damages, any loss involving a third party can result in a lawsuit. By calling your insurer immediately and directly, you empower us to do our expert best to defend you in a lawsuit. This intervention can result in a fair value settlement, rather than a multi-million dollar settlement payout that can sit on your loss record and follow you around for years to come.

– Mark J. Ram is president and CEO of Markel Insurance Company of Canada. Please send your questions, feedback and commentary about this column to letstalk@markel.ca. For more information about Markel visit www.markel.ca.

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