Are you in good hands with the insurance claims adjuster who calls you after an accident? Don't count on it. If you make a property damage claim with your own insurance company, the adjuster will want to save the company's money, but you at least know that the insurance adjuster has a duty to deal with you in good faith. If you make a claim against the company that insures a negligent person who is responsible for your injuries, that duty does not exist.
The insurance company's primary goal is to minimize or avoid payment of your claim. Claims adjusters use a variety of tactics to achieve that end.
Refusing to Investigate
Some adjusters will deny claims automatically without bothering to investigate the facts. You will receive a letter telling you that an “investigation” has determined that their insured party was not at fault. If any investigation occurred at all, it probably consisted of asking the insured whether the insured did anything wrong. The insured's denial of negligent behavior is accepted at face value and the claim is denied.
Putting Words in Your Mouth
Insurance adjusters will often want to take your statement after an accident. They usually want to do that as soon as they can, before you have had a chance to review an accident report to refresh your recollection of the facts and before you understand the full extent of your injuries. Since they know that pain usually begins to worsen two or three days after an accident, they hope to trap you into saying that you feel fine. They may also “guide” your responses in an effort to obtain an admission of fault that can used against you as a basis for denying your claim or minimizing your settlement.
Insurance adjusters are not lawyers but they often take it upon themselves to explain the law to you. They'll tell you that your claim is worthless because of comparative negligence. They'll talk about “assumption of risk” and “failure to mitigate damages” even when those concepts have little or nothing to do with your claim.
Adjusters who cannot baffle you with doubletalk may try to intimidate you with obnoxious behavior. They raise their voices or use insulting language. Some adjusters belittle claimants, accusing them of fabricating injuries or malingering in order to increase their medical bills. Some pretend to disbelieve everything you say. If they don't call you a liar to your face, they'll say “You'll never be able to prove that in court.” They might even threaten to have you charged with fraud or perjury for making a false insurance claim. Their goal is to instill fear so that injury victims will accept an unfair settlement just to make the adjuster go away.
Claiming They Lack Settlement Authority
Claims adjusters are given a “reserve amount” that the insurance company sets whenever it receives an injury claim. The reserve amount is the amount the company has set aside to pay the claim. Adjusters who settle for less than the reserve amount make money for the company and enhance their careers.
Adjusters never tell injury victims what reserve amount has been established for their claim. They will, however, claim that they cannot increase an offer because the company has not given them authority to do so. What they do not admit is that they can always go back to their supervisor and ask for authority to offer more. When they make that request, it is almost always approved, but do not expect the adjuster to volunteer that information.
Many adjusters fight a war of attrition. They try to wear down injury victims who refuse to accept unreasonably low settlement offers. They fail to return telephone calls or to answer letters. They increase settlement offers in ridiculously small increments. They repeat the same arguments over and over while failing to acknowledge the validity of counter-arguments. They want to wear injury victims down so that they will give up and accept an unreasonably low offer. In some cases, they hope to drag out negotiations for so long that the statute of limitations expires, causing the injury victim to lose the right to obtain compensation.
Adjusters can only use these tactics effectively upon injury victims who are not represented by a lawyer. When a victim has representation, the adjuster must negotiate with the lawyer, not with the injured person. Wrongful death lawyers are familiar with, and immune to, the tactics wielded by claims adjusters. Lawyers are prepared to file a lawsuit if the adjuster does not offer a reasonable settlement. That's a threat that unrepresented victims cannot credibly make.
Since adjusters cannot buffalo lawyers, they do everything they can to discourage injury victims from hiring one. They make wild claims that a lawyer will delay the settlement. They argue that all of the settlement proceeds will go to the lawyer and not the client. In fact, they know that if the victim is represented by a personal injury lawyer, the insurance company will be forced to pay more money to settle the claim. In almost every case, that extra compensation more than offsets the attorney's fee. To maximize compensation and to minimize the stress of dealing with insurance adjusters, it always makes sense to get advice from a personal injury lawyer.