So, you've been in an accident or otherwise suffered an injury, and you've got a few witnesses who will corroborate your side of the story. What now?
Simply mentioning in your demand letter that you have supporting witnesses may be enough to convince the insurance company that you can prove the other side was at fault. This is particularly true if you have directly quoted from or sent a written witness statement along with your discussion of liability in the demand letter.
Should You Provide Witness Contact Information?
An insurance adjuster may ask you for the names and addresses of your witnesses to speak with them directly. It makes no sense at this point for you to refuse to identify a witness you have already told the insurance company about -- assuming you did so in your demand letter.
Refusing to give the insurance company the name and address of a witness, or refusing to ask the witness to contact the insurance company, will appear to be an unreasonable lack of cooperation. That will create suspicion and lack of cooperation on the insurance company’s part, and will also completely undercut the value of having the witness. If you won’t let the insurance company verify what the witness says, the insurance company isn’t going to be very impressed that you have such a witness.
What If the Witness Doesn't Want to Talk to the Insurance Company?
A witness who does not want to speak to an insurance company does not have to -- not unless there is a formal lawsuit with subpoenas issued by a court. And if a witness has instructed you not to give out his or her identity to the insurance company, tell that to the adjuster.
However, if a witness refuses to speak to the adjuster, the adjuster is probably not going to give much weight to what the witness claims to have seen, which makes that witness almost useless for the settlement negotiation process.
The Witness Can Call the Shots
A witness who agrees to speak with the insurance company has the right to control where, when, and how that contact takes place. A witness can exercise control in the following ways:
- The witness can contact the adjuster rather than having his or her phone number given out.
- The witness can decline to give a written statement.
- The witness does not have to be interviewed in person.
- The witness does not have to permit the interview to be recorded. (It’s usually in your best interest if the interview is not recorded, for the same reasons you wouldn’t want your own conversations with an adjuster to be recorded.
- The witness does not have to sign any statement drawn up by the adjuster.
- The witness does not have to return to the scene with the adjuster or anyone else.
- The witness does not have to give any more personal information than he or she wants to.
- Once the witness speaks with the adjuster, the witness does not have to speak with anyone else from the insurance company or to repeat the conversation with the adjuster.
Even though a witness is not legally obligated to speak with the adjuster, you are not permitted to instruct the witness not to speak with the insurance company. That would improperly interfere with the company’s right to gather evidence.
You can discuss with the witness what is important in the case and stress the points you would like him or her to make clear to the adjuster, but you cannot tell the witness what to say or not say. It is certainly all right for the witness to tell the adjuster that you and the witness have discussed the accident, but the witness should be able to tell the adjuster in all honesty that you have not tried to tell the witness what he or she must say.
This article is an excerpt from How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Attorney Joseph Matthews (Nolo).