Published in Personal Injury on August 11, 2017
As I write this post, I am sitting on an airplane next to an insurance adjuster. The adjuster is poring over what appear to be claim files. Admittedly I did not get a good look at his paperwork, since I didn’t want to appear nosy by looking over his shoulder. However, out of the corner of my eye I did manage to notice one word on the cover sheet of several of the files—“DENY.”
No word better captures the attitudes of today’s insurance companies. In spite of skyrocketing premiums, mandatory minimum insurance coverage, and short leashes on claims, insurers rubber stamp denials with alarming frequency. This includes claims by homeowners for damages due to fire, flood, and other natural disasters; claims on life insurance policies; and, for purposes of this post, claims for property damage and personal injury after an automobile accident.
From a common sense perspective, the time immediately following a car wreck is a terrible time to make important decisions about compensation for lost property and injury. Despite this, most insurance companies race to settle claims as soon after the accident as possible. This is true regardless of whether you have finished receiving all of you necessary medical care or whether you have ascertained the true loss of your personal property. How can you be expected to make rational, important decisions when you are in pain, scheduling doctors’ appointments, or are simply trying to figure out how to drive to work, school, or church now that your car is in the shop for repairs? Here are five tips to help you deal with insurance companies to get the compensation you deserve:
- You don’t have to settle right away: Even though the insurance company may want to resolve your case as quickly as possible, it may not be in your best interest to do so. Rather than succumb to the pressure put on you by an overzealous adjuster, take time to decide how you were injured and what amount of money will properly compensate you for those injuries. Don’t feel obligated to engage in settlement discussions until you are ready. On many occasions I have told adjusters that I am not ready to talk money. You can do the same thing.
- Wait to negotiate until you have estimates on your property loss and until you have completed your medical treatment: When you accept money from the insurance company and settle your claim, you agree that you will not seek any additional compensation. Under no circumstances should you settle with the insurance company before you have seen a physician and had the doctor tell you that you have reached maximum medical improvement (“MMI”). MMI occurs when the doctors determine that your body has healed as much as is possible and that no further treatment will benefit you. If you settle before reaching MMI, you run the risk of needing additional therapy, surgery, or other medical treatment, but not receiving reimbursement for that treatment. By waiting until you reach MMI, you ensure that all of your medical bills will be considered by the insurance company when they evaluate your claim.
- Keep a journal: The first few weeks after an auto accident are frenetic. Time is spent seeing doctors, arranging for rental vehicles, speaking with insurance companies, and answering phone calls from concerning family members. Remembering all of the details of this phase of your life when it comes time to negotiate with the insurance company is nearly impossible. Keeping a journal is one way to keep track of everything that is happening. Documenting doctor’s appointments, conversations about the wreck, and how you feel from one day to the next will ensure that you can accurately describe how the accident affected your life.
- Talk to a lawyer: If you have trouble dealing directly with the insurance company or are concerned that you are not receiving fair compensation for your injuries, meet with a lawyer to explore your options. Nearly all attorneys who represent injured individuals offer free initial consolations to discuss your case. The lawyer will help you evaluate your case and give you a sense of how the lawyer can help you. Most lawyers take auto accident cases under a contingency fee arrangement, which means that you only pay the lawyer if he or she gets the insurance company to pay you. The attorney is paid a percentage of the total amount paid (typically 33%-40%). While this may seem like a steep price to pay, my clients have always received more money after paying my legal fees than they would have by accepting the insurance company’s offer before hiring me.
- Don’t accept the first offer: Never accept the first settlement offer. The insurer always has more money to offer to resolve your case. Don’t be afraid to ask for more money. The worst the adjuster can do is say no.
Hopefully you will never be required to negotiate a settlement with an insurance adjuster. If you are, keep these five tips in mind to ensure that you are maximizing your recovery.