Because insurance companies are the one who will in the end have to write the check for the verdict or settlement in a personal injury case from a car accident, they have a huge economic incentive to do everything that they can to limit the amount that you will have to be paid. Their economic interest colors every action that they take with regard to you and your case. You need to be aware of this in every dealing that you have with them. Have you ever wondered how insurance companies make money?
I know that as an Illinois accident attorney I am more cynical than the average consumer about insurance companies – a cynicism born of years of experience – but I am still surprised by the number of people who trust that the other driver’s insurance company will treat them in a decent and honorable way. Perhaps my experience trends in a different direction from most, but I find that few people have satisfactory experiences with automobile liability insurance carriers, even when the other driver has the same insurance company that you have had for years. I suppose that when a large insurance company spends millions year after year promoting themselves as “good neighbors” or the “good hands people” those images will have some lasting effects. Most people have a decent, natural instinct to want to resolve things in a reasonable kind of way, and insurance companies prey on that instinct.
Once a claim is opened up with an insurance company, your case will be assigned to an employee of the insurance company.
That person is called an adjuster, and he or she is the one who will make decisions for the company regarding your case. (Some insurance companies have started to use the term “customer” to refer to the people making claims against them and calling insurance adjusters “customer service representatives.” I find this incredibly deceptive – a customer is someone who seeks out the goods or services of a company, and I know that when I get rear-ended, I did not seek anything out from the insurance company for the guy who hit me!).
Insurance adjusters are well-trained in a set of procedures and tactics that have been developed over the years to minimize the amounts that an insurance company will have to pay.
Some of the tactics that you will see insurance adjusters employ include:
- Develop a personal friendship with the injured person – Many insurance adjusters are fairly personable and have well-developed skills for developing a good relationship with people quickly. By doing things liking being sympathetic to an injured person, discussing common interests or events from their own lives, insurance adjusters are able to make an injured person feel like they are friends, and the adjuster can use that to develop information that will help the insurer minimize the value of the case and to get the injured person to accept a lowball offer once it is made.
- Require a recorded statement – Insurance adjusters are skilled interviewers, and they will often request a recorded statement from the injured person “for the file.” What they are trying to do is elicit information which will hurt the victim’s chances to ultimately prevail in court or to justify a lowball offer or denying the claim altogether. Questions that may seem pretty innocuous over the phone may look damning indeed when seen written out on paper. Oftentimes, adjuster will tell an injured person that they cannot settle the case without a recorded statement. From a legal standpoint, that is simply not true. Their company guidelines may require it, but there is no legal requirement for you to give a recorded statement.
- Abuse blanket medical authorizations – One of the first things that an adjuster will do is ask you to sign a blank medical authorization which will allow them to order copies of your medical records from your doctors or from the hospitals where you were treated. Since it will save you from having to get the records yourself and mail them to the insurance company, this is often an appealing idea. However, an adjuster may use that authorization to get medical records not just from the accident, but also for before the accident and for other, unrelated medical issues.
- Nickel and dime medical charges – Part of your case will involve medical expenses, and some automobile liability insurance carriers will review your bills for resonableness. Of course, there is no real explanation for how they reach the conclusion that a bill is unreasonable, just that it is and will not be included or accepted into a settlement offer.
- Require unreasonable proof of wage loss – Some insurance carriers will not consider wage loss claims without a note from a doctor, even when you are plainly not able to do your job. Others will require to the penny documentation, even when it is not really possible, as is sometimes the case with people who are self-employed, or who work for tips or commissions. Without a mountain of proof, they will simply say that nothing can be offered for wage loss, even when it is clear that there has been a significant wage loss.
- Press for a quick settlement – Once a case is settled, it is over forever, even if it turns out that you were more seriously hurt than first believed. Quick settlements are often cheap settlements for the insurance company, and if the case can be closed quickly and cheaply, so much the better for the insurance company, especially when someone has serious injuries.
- Delay settlement as long as possible – Failing to settle the case quickly, insurers will frequently drag the case out for a long time before making an offer, frequently by demanding unrealistic amounts of proof the damages and by claiming that there is an ongoing investigation. People who are hurt frequently tire of the process and decide to simply get the case over with out of frustration, even when it is not for the full and fair amount that they are due.
- Fail to disclose the full amount of insurance coverage – One important variable, especially in cases where there are serious injuries, is the amount of insurance coverage that is available, and insurers will sometimes will sometimes fail to disclose all of the coverage which is available. In one case I handled for someone who was involved in a very serious accident, the adjuster claimed that there was only $100,000 in coverage and did not admit that there was a $2 million excess umbrella policy until he was pressed on the issue. Had I not known the right questions to ask before settling, the case would have been settled for the $100,000 settlement. Most consumers do not know how to find out this kind of information.
Not every adjuster is unethical or corrupt, and not every one of these tactics will be used in every case, but I have seen enough of these used frequently enough that I can safely tell you that you need to beware of them. Dealing with insurance company tactics can be a stressful experience and you may want to consider talking to an experience Illinois accident attorney to handle this with you.