ATLANTA - When you're hurt in a crash, seconds count. The clock isn't only ticking on the ambulance, Consumer Investigator Jim Strickland discovered even as the crash victim, you're under a deadline too with big money at stake.
It's part of that mammoth auto policy you stuffed in the drawer and never looked at. Some insurance companies are using tight claim deadlines to get out of paying. You might not even know you are supposed to call in a claim until it is too late.
"I can't get that time back," Shawna Wagner told Strickland.
Wagner said it was a trip to the mall that changed everything.
"My life wasn't the same, I would be sleeping most of my life away because of the medication. I couldn't go to school," said Wagner.
She was a passenger in her friend's Honda when another driver without enough coverage hit them. Wagner figured the resulting ache was only a nuisance. She was wrong.
"It started off as a little pain, so I did not think anything about it, but it just kept getting worse," said Wagner.
Wagner eventually had to have surgery, but the pain is now compounded by angst.
The insurance company denied her claim.
"They want to say ‘notice should have been given in a strict time frame,’" Wagner's attorney André Dennis told Strickland.
Dennis told Strickland that insurance companies impose strict deadlines when you file your own underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage. Geico said Wagner waited too long.
"Their goal is to try to save as much money as possible, move as quickly as possible and close out your case," said Dennis.
Former insurance company attorney, Chris Simon, now represents crash victims. Simon told Strickland that underinsured coverage you paid for could be useless.
"Some policies are written with what I would call ‘nasty language.’ There are ones with as small a time limit as 30 days, so that company says, ‘if you don't pick up the phone and call me within 30 days, we are going to cut off all your benefits,’" said Simon.
There are times when you would not think of calling. That could cost you big by missing out on coverage you did not even know you had.
"You're not in your own car, why would you think to call them? Or you have a relative in your household with an extra insurance policy, both of those are 20 and 30 and $40,000 ‘oopsies,’" said Simon.
Both mistakes with which Shawna Wagner is now dealing.
"I would like to move forward with my life and I feel like this is an added stress. Right now I'm taking online classes and I'm worried about my medical bills. I can't afford that," said Wagner.
Read your insurance policy to see what deadline your insurance company gives you and if you're injured in an accident, even if you are not driving, make sure to pick up the phone and let your own insurance company know. In case you need your coverage when the other guy does not have enough to cover you.
Wagner said she is fighting Geico's decision. She and her attorney have filed suit against Geico to get them paid. She has $73,000 in medical bills.
We called the attorney representing Geico in the fight and they chose not to talk about it.