When you file a claim with your insurance company for a car accident or home damage, think before you speak. Saying the wrong words during that first phone call can turn what should be a quick, painless settlement into a prolonged nightmare. Insurance adjusters zero in on certain "trigger" words that indicate you might not have a legitimate claim -- or don't know what you're talking about. Here's your strategy: Don't say any more than necessary. Talking too much only gives you more chance to say something counterproductive. "Just tell your agent exactly what happened," suggests President Bob Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute (III), which represents the property-casualty industry. Avoid these 12 words, which are often used by "over-talkers" and can hinder even the most legitimate claim.
1. SorryYou may say "I'm sorry" out of habit or embarrassment after a car crash, but hold your tongue at the scene of an accident. There's no need to admit fault or assign blame - let a police officer determine fault. You don't want your words to cause confusion about your role in an accident, especially if you weren't at fault.
2. WhiplashSay "whiplash" and the insurance adjuster will probably speed-dial the in-house counsel. Whiplash claims are the bane of insurance companies, which are on constant alert against bogus medical claims. Don't self-diagnose your injuries from an accident. If you suspect trauma, see a doctor and get the medical report. After a car accident, never speak to the other party's insurer before you speak to your own.
3. IntentionalInsurance will cover bad luck and bad judgment, like driving too fast on ice and crashing, but it won't cover intentional acts. If your wife took a bat to your car hood during an argument, or you broke your car window in order to get your keys, get ready to pay for damage yourself.
4. CustomizedYour souped-up car might be your pride and joy, but auto insurers are not interested in covering drivers who are careening around in modified vehicles trying to look cool.
Remember that customizing and upgrades to your car may not be covered by insurance -- or only up to $2,000, warns Insure.com's consumer analyst Penny Gusner. In fact, some modifications can void your auto insurance policy.
5. BreakdownYour car won't start in the morning. Your axle snaps while you're turning a corner. You don't have an insurance claim; you have a mechanical breakdown. And breakdowns aren't covered by auto insurance unless you specifically added mechanical breakdown coverage to your policy. If your insurer offers it, make sure you understand the details. Does it include roadside assistance and a rental car? What is the coverage limit for repairs and what is excluded? Find out what options you can buy in an auto insurance policy.
6. FineMany people have a misplaced tendency to assure everyone they're fine after an accident, says Gusner, even when they can barely crawl out of the wreck. Let the doctor say you're fine before you give this information to your insurer -- or anyone else.
7. Ride-shareRide-sharing services are flourishing in urban areas, but that doesn't mean they're a smart choice. If your car is used for a purpose other than that for which the policy was issued, you may not be covered. Renting out your car as a taxi service could void coverage. So don't turn your car into a side business unless you've checked with your agent.
8. Off-premises"Off-premises" could indicate that your problem isn't covered by your policy. Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a non-profit group that helps consumers, tells of a man who told his insurer that his water damage may have been caused by a backup from an outside sewer rather than a problem inside his property. The insurer told him that the damage had to originate on-premises or it wasn't covered. The case went to court, but the owner lost.
9. CoincidenceInsurance companies cast a wary eye on anyone who insists an unusual situation was just "coincidence," according to Jim Quiggle, director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.
"It's just a coincidence that my car was in that vacant lot on the other side of town and the driver's seat mysteriously caught fire," says Quiggle as an example. Insurers will suspect your car fire was on purpose rather than coincidence.