Secrets of Negotiation- For Personal Injury Victims
Written by Greg on April 20, 2018
Make a claim early – but do not negotiate until you are ready.
Opening the claim with the insurance company soon after the accident is usually a good idea. By opening a claim early, you are putting the insurance company on notice that a claim will be made against their insurance policy. Many insurance carriers will push to attempt to settle a personal injury claim in specific cases, very early, as a method to keep their exposure to a minimum.
If you attempt to negotiate a settlement while you are still treating medically, you are in effect shifting the risk of the magnitude of the injury off of the insurance company and on your back.
Insurance companies are not in the business of paying fair value on personal injury claims and always try to minimize the amount that they pay out.
If the insurance company is trying to settle your claim while you are still getting medical attention, you can bet the reason is they want to save money.
Information is power.
It is critical that you gather the vital information necessary for the insurance company to evaluate your claim. This would include photographs of such things as the vehicle damage, accident scene or evidence of your injuries. Obtaining the crash report in an automobile accident and independent witness information is always advisable. In more significant claims, information regarding the potential defendant and their companies can also be compelling.
You should know that the insurance company will have gathered information to use against you such as your claim history (prior accidents), your previous medical treatment, and anything else that may be used to make you look bad. Most personal injury victims do not realize the extent of information about them that is available to the insurance companies in this digital world.
Acceptance of liability does not equal a fair offer.
One technique that is utilized every day by insurance companies is after a claim is opened they will communicate to the victim that they are “accepting liability”. This leads the injured person to believe that the insurance company will then be making a reasonable offer of settlement for their claim. Assuming accepting liability means a fair offer is forthcoming is a mistake.
Insurance adjusters know that by telling the claimant that they are accepting liability, there’s a much higher chance that the injured will not take the steps necessary to protect their claim such as retaining a qualified personal injury attorney or doing the investigation that is usually needed.
It is usually right after the subject of money comes up from a claim where the insurance carrier “accepted liability” or “accepted responsibility” that the victim understands they need an attorney. Unfortunately, in many cases, the injured have taken steps that hurt their case before they realize they need a lawyer.
Insurance companies do not fear a lawsuit.
Insurance companies are in the business of handling claims and that necessarily involves litigation. While an insurance company would prefer to settle a clear liability claim early, they will do so only if it is in their best interest to do so. In other words, they will pay today less than they may have to pay later on.
The situation has been exacerbated in the state of Texas which allows insurance companies to defend claims against their own insured with employee lawyers. While the conflict of interest is clear, nevertheless, the ability to use an in-house employee attorney reduces the costs to the insurance company of defending a lawsuit.
Do not threaten a lawsuit unless you are prepared to follow through and even then, it is not anything that will worry the insurer.
Some insurance companies require a lawsuit to get reasonable.
Much has changed over the last few decades in the personal injury arena. Probably the most significant change has come from the computerized valuation models utilized by many insurance companies in settling claims.
Insurance companies understand the costs of litigation and that smaller cases are very hard to prosecute through trial economically. Insurance companies will use this knowledge to lowball many claims with the intent to force a lawsuit to offer anything in the reasonable range.
Attorneys must evaluate each case based upon a business model which considers the value of the attorney’s time, the estimated expenses and the likely outcomes. The economics of trial makes it difficult for some personal injury victims to obtain quality representation in smaller cases.
Frequently, by filing a lawsuit, the evaluation process changes from the prelitigation strategy to the in-litigation group which may result in a closer look at the value of the claim.
Medical bills matter.
Insurance companies are much more likely to give weight to the total amount of medical bills and the treating physician’s diagnosis then they are to what the victim may claim to the insurance company in the way of pain or suffering. Probably the most crucial evidence on damages will be what the treating physicians have to say and objective findings on tests.
Insurance companies give more weight to medical doctors than they would say a chiropractor.
On filing a lawsuit, the defense may be entitled to a defendant’s medical doctor examination by a doctor of their choosing. These defense doctors make big bucks by always claiming the injured is exaggerating, treatment was not necessary, or the medical was excessive. Do not assume that the treating physician’s opinions will be unrebutted or that the defense doctor will be objective; they are not.
Properly documenting the necessity of future medical bills is critical and negotiating a fair personal injury settlement.
The insurance company will always find issues.
In negotiating a personal injury settlement, the insurance company will always find issues with the plaintiff’s claim. An example would be someone who needed a lot of treatment after the accident – the insurance company may come back and say the medical care was excessive in amount or cost. Conversely, someone who puts off going to the doctor trying to tough it out, the insurance company may come back and say they waited too long to go to the doctor. And of course, adjuster attempts to “disallow” part of the medical treatment.
On liability, you can be expected to hear arguments that attempt to make the accident partly your fault. Such as you were going too fast, did not apply your brakes soon enough, were not wearing a seatbelt, did not keep a proper lookout or other issues.
Recognize all of these techniques for what they are and be prepared to address them in your negotiation process.
Some cases are more valuable than others.
As stated above, insurance companies have been trending toward the use of computerized models to evaluate personal injury claims. While this approach has served the industry well in trying to reduce the amount that they pay for injuries, some cases are more valuable than others.
Cases where the value is enhanced can include those where the liability factors are particularly bad for the defendant. Examples would be drunk driving accident or an 18-wheeler accident involving violation of federal standards or other bad conduct on the part of the defendant.
On the other hand, some cases are subject to reductions in value by the insurance company. Examples would be minor damage to the vehicles in a car wreck or slip and fall cases without proof of advance knowledge by the property.
Serious injury cases always need a good lawyer.
The general rule is worse the injury, the more likely it is that you will need a reputable personal injury lawyer to get the most money. The earlier you retain a personal injury lawyer the better.
Insurance companies rate attorneys and who you hire matters. Do your homework about the attorney before you sign up with them.