Most insurance policies give your insurer the right to demand that you submit to an "examination under oath" as part of the claims process. Whether the claim is for private nuisance, personal injury or wrongful death, a truck accident, a drunk driving accident, a motorcycle accident, a car accident, products liability, a dog bite, or premises liability, your insurance policy likely obligates you to cooperate with your insurer and give an examination under oath if you want the claim covered. An examination under oath allows your insurance company to question you about your insurance claim while you are under oath and subject to penalties for perjury. Besides the criminal consequences of committing perjury during an examination under oath, committing perjury can provide your insurance company a reason to lawfully deny your claim.
When requested by your insurance company, submitting to an examination under oath is part of your duty to cooperate with your insurance company's review of your claim. I spoke about the consequences of failing to cooperate, which can include lawful denial of your claim, in an earlier blog post. On several occasions the Iowa Supreme Court has held that examinations under oath, when requested by insurance companies, are a prerequisite to coverage.
Your insurance company has the sole right to decide whether an examination under oath will be conducted and the general timing of the examination. Certainly, any examinations under oath will occur during your insurance company’s review of your claim. Although insurance companies generally prefer to conduct examinations under oath early in the claims process, there are no rules mandating when examinations must actually be scheduled. Of course, your insurance has to work with you to schedule the specific date and time of your examination under oath to ensure that you have an opportunity to schedule it for a convenient time. Please note that some insurance companies (or their lawyers) have an unfortunate habit of picking a date, time, and place for your examination without first consulting you about scheduling. If that happens, and any of those details don't work for you, you must contact the person who scheduled the examination. Simply failing to show, without notifying your insurer ahead of time about any scheduling conflicts, may be considered a refusal to submit to the examination under oath and grounds for denial of your claim.
Although I make it seem like your insurance company can do whatever it wants regarding an examination under oath, that's not entirely true. On our insurance law page, we discuss some of the general ways in which an insurance company can be guilty of insurance bad faith, all of which apply to examinations under oath. Delaying your examination under oath, with a corresponding delay in the investigation of your claim and the claims decision, can be indicative of insurance bad faith. So can failing to properly investigate your insurance claim before denying some or all of it. It could be argued that, if your insurer makes that decision without taking your examination under oath, that its failure to examine you constitutes an inadequate investigation of your insurance claim.
People often have questions about what documents they should bring to an examination under oath. The easy answer is bring any types of documents that the insurance company requests when the examination is scheduled. Most letters confirming the date, time, and location of an examination under oath will also include a list of categories of documents that you're requested to bring with you to the examination or provide to the insurance company beforehand. Make sure you comply with that request to the extent you have any requested documents. Failure to do so can be considered a failure to cooperate with the insurance claims process, which can result in denial of your claim.
What about legal representation during your examination under oath? Although you're not required to have a lawyer, it's not a bad idea to have one to consult with before the examination under oath and to represent your interests during the examination, just like an attorney would during a deposition in an actual court case. Every examination under oath I've ever attended was conducted by a lawyer hired by the insurance company. It's a bad idea to go into that without a lawyer because anything you say during the examination can later be used against you, both to deny some or all of your claim and also as part of any lawsuits or criminal matters that arise out of the occurrence that led to the insurance claim in the first place.
Please feel free to contact us if you need the assistance of a Des Moines insurance lawyer.