Dealing With Insurance Companies
When you've been injured, you'll usually be looking to the other person's insurance to collect damages for your injury. If the other person doesn't have insurance or doesn't have enough insurance, you may be relying on your own insurance company to pay your damages. Either way, dealing with an insurance adjuster can be frustrating and downright scary. That's why it's a good idea to hire a lawyer to help you communicate effectively with the insurance company.
You can expect your lawyer to kick off the negotiation process by notifying the people responsible that you're hurt and will be filing a claim for your damages.
Your lawyer will then thoroughly investigate the circumstances of your injury. You can help your lawyer by providing copies of the:
- Police report
- Traffic tickets given to the other person
- Photos of the scene of the accident
- Names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses and what they saw
- Medical records and bills
- Photos of your injuries
- Wage stubs proving how much you made at the time of the accident and how much work time you missed due to your injury
You'll also want to provide your lawyer with any other documentation you may have showing how your injury has negatively impacted your life.
Your lawyer will not want to begin serious negotiation with the insurance company until your injuries have stabilized enough to know what the permanent effects will be. This can sometimes take months or even years. Don't pressure your lawyer into negotiating prematurely with the insurance company, as you are the one who will be hurt if your claim is settled before you know the full extent of your injuries.
After collecting all the information regarding your injury, your lawyer will write what's called a "demand letter" to the insurance company. This letter will explain:
- Why the other person is responsible for your injuries
- The extent of your injuries and how you're likely to be affected by them in the future
- What type of medical treatment you've had and will need to have in the future and how much it will cost
- How much income you've already lost and will lose in the future
- Any other damages you've suffered as a result of the accident.
- The settlement package sent to the adjuster will include all the documentation you've given your lawyer to support your claim.
Your lawyer will likely end the demand letter with a demand for a specific sum of money to settle your claim. You and your lawyer will already have an idea of how much you think your claim is reasonably worth, but chances are that your lawyer will ask for as much as twice that amount from the insurance company, in order to allow for some room to negotiate downward as talks with the insurance company continue.
It may take a month or two for the insurance company to respond to your lawyer's initial demand letter. It's important to realize that insurance companies are big bureaucracies and profit-making centers. There are many layers of management within an insurance company and the adjuster who handles your claim will have to wade through many channels to get authority to make you an offer or up an offer after an initial offer has been made. Negotiations will likely move very slowly, as your lawyer and the adjuster talk back and forth.
The adjuster will probably make an offer to settle your claim for far less than the amount you requested in your demand letter. Your lawyer will then suggest an amount lower than your original demand but higher than what the adjuster has offered. This process will continue until your lawyer and the adjuster hit on a settlement amount that everyone can live with.
When your lawyer and the insurance adjuster have come to an agreement on how much you'll be paid, your lawyer will write a confirming letter to the adjuster, which will include a specific date by which you expect to receive payment from the insurance company.
When you receive the settlement check, you'll have to sign a written document that releases the insurance company from any further liability for the accident. Your lawyer will help you read through this release and answer any questions you may have about what the release covers.
Your lawyer will likely take his or her attorney's fees out of the settlement check before you receive what's due to you. You should expect your lawyer to give you a detailed accounting of any costs deducted from your payment, and answer any questions you may have about how he or she calculated their fee.
The big majority of insurance claims are settled at the adjuster level. If your lawyer and the insurance adjuster are unable to settle your case, however, it will be necessary to take it to trial.