THE MCMILLIAN LAW FIRM
AGGRESSIVE AND PASSIONATE ADVOCACY FOR CAR ACCIDENT VICTIMS IN CHARLESTON, SC AND SUMMERVILLE, SC
One of the biggest barriers that I try to clear when a potential client walks into my office is to make the client understand the nature of the relationship with the insurance adjuster. Understanding that relationship must start from the premise that the adjuster does not care about you, only about the bottom line. The hard part is that with that understanding, clients get caught somewhere in a place where they both despise and yet fear the adjuster. The client doesn't understand how to control the urge of telling the adjuster to "$%*& Off!" while at the same time being firm enough to hold to a reasonable position but also professional enough to keep the adjuster engaged. Simply put, prior to hiring an attorney, the client simply doesn't know how to massage that relationship and doesn't know the right questions to ask.
*It must be noted that recent studies do show, that on average, hiring a personal injury / car accident lawyer does increase the final settlement of the injured victim by approximately 3.5 times over a settlement negotiated by the injured victim without a lawyer.
The purpose of this article is to educated you on what to say! Specifically, this article will present 10 questions that your adjuster does not want you to ask during a personal injury negotiation. Why is the adjuster afraid of these questions? These questions, and the responses to them, not only let the adjuster know you have a working knowledge of the process, but it also helps return some of the negotiating leverage back to the injured party!
QUESTION 1: WHAT ARE THE AVAILABLE POLICY LIMITS?
Adjusters are often hesitant to disclose to accident victims the available amount of insurance on the policy of an at-fault driver. The comical part of this is that adjusters expect to disclose this to an attorney if one is involved. So why the big deal you ask? Adjusters are usually hesitant to talk about this directly to the injured party because they know, once that cat is out of the bag, it pretty much destroys their ability to throw a ridiculous low ball offer out there for the victim to accept. Would you accept $5000.00 if your medical bills were $4000 and you knew there was $25,000 of insurance available. Of course not, you would negotiate a better deal!
QUESTION 2: HOW MUCH AUTHORITY DO YOU HAVE?
"Authority" for the adjuster simply mean how high they can go to settle a claim. The "authority" of the adjuster is usually established by a claims supervisor. The amount of authority that the adjuster has can depend on several factors but the two largest factors are the seniority of the adjuster and the company's true valuation of your claim. It is not uncommon to have a minor claim, say with $5000 in medical bills, being handle by a newbie who may only have $5000 or $6000 in authority from the claims supervisor. The important point is that authority usually does change from adjuster to adjuster. By asking this question up front, you are accomplishing two goals. First, the adjuster may blurt out a number and now you have information concerning what your claim is valued at by the insurance company and can use that leverage in negotiation. Second, if your claim does have a higher value, asking this question may get the claim transferred from an adjuster who couldn't offer you that value to an adjuster who can. Remember, if an adjuster does actually tell you what his/her authority is, rest assured it is probably higher than that!
QUESTION 3: WHAT IS THE RESERVE ON THE CLAIM?
The "reserve" is the amount of money that the insurance company, usually through the claims supervisor, has set aside to pay a settlement on your case. This is the true amount that the insurance company has assigned as the value of your claim. This is different than the "authority" described above. It is plausible, and most likely probable that an adjuster may have an actual "authority" to settle a claim for lets say $10,000 but the insurance company has set the actual reserve (what it will really pay to settle) at $15,000. It is rare to actually have an adjuster tell you the reserve. The most obvious reason is as stated above, they don't have the authority to settle the case for the actual reserve. However, asking this question not only lets the adjuster know again that you are aware of the game being played, but also sets the ground work to have the adjuster pass the claim along to an adjuster higher up the food chain that does have the authority to settle the claim for the reserve amount.
QUESTION 4: HOW MUCH HAVE YOU PAID FOR THIS INJURY IN THE PAST?
Ask the adjuster how much have they paid in the past for pain and suffering for the same injury that you are claiming. Insurance companies keep vast databases and files that document exactly how much has paid out on the precise injuries that you are presenting in your claim. Again, it would be a surprise if the adjuster tells you this, and if they do offer up a number, I can promise you it is not an accurate number. However, the reason you ask is that with some online research of verdicts and settlements (there are some databases that actually compile this info for private use), you can either combat a false number passed along to you from an adjuster, or better yet, call the adjuster's bluff and give him / her some numbers that are verifiable through their own data.
QUESTION 5: HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU LOST AT TRIAL?
In the world of personal injury and car accident cases, we determine "wins" and "loses" by a little different standard. For an insurance company, "losing" at trial is basically having to pay a jury verdict to a victim that is in excess of the amount of a settlement offered pre-trial. So, if the adjuster offers you a low ball settlement of $10,000 and you go to trial and a jury awards you $20,000, that is a "loss" for the insurance company (especially considering they also had to pay their lawyers on top of that). There is not an insurance company operating anywhere in America that hasn't "lost" many times at trial. This is a tactic that not only serves to get inside the head of the adjuster, but is also your first hint that you are willing to go all the way to court if that is necessary. Even adjusters, for the most part, do not want to risk going to trial and losing excess funds.
QUESTION 6: HAS A SUPERVISOR INCREASED YOUR PAST OFFERS?
This question ties right back into the issue of "authority" discussed above. The general response to this is usually "well if you talk to my supervisor you are going to hear the same answer." Well, at that point you call the bluff and ask to deal with a supervisor. Now the supervisor may, initially, back up the amount being offered by the front line adjuster, but it is common knowledge that the supervisor has a higher authority and can access any reserves beyond anything the front line adjuster can offer. Armed with this information and knowing who the supervisor is, you can again begin to push a little harder knowing that access to an increased settlement lies there and not with the front line adjuster.
QUESTION 7: WHAT ARE THE WEAKNESSES OF YOUR DEFENSE?
Take the opportunity to flat out ask the adjuster what they consider to be the weaknesses of their case in trying to justify a low ball settlement offer.Any information gained from this question can be used to bolster your own argument for a higher settlement. This tactic does require some skill and again the point is to get inside the head of the adjuster. For example, in a recent case, I had this talk with an adjuster and when I asked this question, I got the usual very vanilla response of "yeah we are accepting liability for our insured." They are admitting that they are fully liable for all damages, that is a good thing. Yet also take this as an opportunity to pull them from the general into the specific. What I mean is that my retort to that statement was "yeah your guy was going 50 in a 35 during a rainstorm on a two lane road during rush hour and slammed into my client going an estimated 50 miles per hour." Put some meat on that bone. Let the adjuster know that you have a handle of the facts of your case and convince them that the weaknesses or not just potholes, but big deep pits!
QUESTION 8: DO YOU INCREASE AN OFFER AFTER BEING SUED?
This question again serves the purpose of establishing the fact that you are willing to go the extra mile to be fairly compensated. The most frequent answer to this question by adjusters is "no." But the fact of the matter is that more times than not, an offer will be increased once a lawsuit is filed. Why is that the case? Its a function of two things. First, they will again try to buy you off cheaper than what they fear a jury may award you at trial. Second, a very technical reason that an offer is increased once a lawsuit is filed is that the claim will be taken from the adjuster and either sent to a supervisor, an attorney for the insurance company, or both and they will again have higher authorities to settle and dispose of the claim than the adjuster.
QUESTION 9: HOW MUCH IS YOUR INSURED AT FAULT?
The basic premise of this question is that by establishing liability of the at-fault driver, you eliminate the ability of the adjuster to deny a legitimate claim or stall a claim by tinkering with the issue of liability. Once an adjuster gets to a point where they are accepting full and total liability on a claim, or even a majority of the liability, then the claim goes from being an "if" claim to a "how much" claim. Believe me, an "if" claim is one that involves the possibility of getting nothing, if liability is a concern. We much prefer the "how much" claims! These are the claims that are basically a negotiation to get to a final fair and reasonable value.
QUESTION 10: ARE YOU PAYING ME 100% FOR ALL MY MEDICAL BILLS?
Make sure to ask the adjuster if they are paying you for every penny of your accrued medical bills. Why is this important in South Carolina. Well in a previous article we discussed the collateral source rule. Basically, the law in South Carolina provides that you are able to claim as damages the entire amount of the medical services provided prior to the application of any discounts or health insurance. So, if you have an ER bill of $5000 but after your health insurance pays, you only have to pay $1000, in South Carolina your rightful claim for damages will be the original $5000. Insurance companies sometimes do not like to volunteer this little tidbit of the law so make sure to point blank ask them. If your gross medical bills are a certain amount prior to applying any insurance, then make sure that is the number on the table.
THE MCMILLIAN LAW FIRM
DEDICATED TO SERVING CAR ACCIDENT AND INJURY VICTIMS IN CHARLESTON, SC AND SUMMERVILLE, SC
As a Car Accident and Personal Injury lawyer in my solo practice, I will take all necessary steps to protect your rights and earn just compensation for you as a result of your accident. Through my efforts, I can bring about much needed financial relief to a victim who may be suffering from serious injuries and permanent disability. Being a small firm allows you to have direct access to your lawyer during this entire process, with open lines of communication as we work together towards a viable solution to your specific case.
Being an experienced personal injury attorney, I have experience dealing with insurance companies. I also know where the courthouse is and will not be afraid to call the insurance company to the mat in front of a judge and jury if necessary.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident or due to the negligent or reckless acts of another in Charleston, Summerville, Mount Pleasant, James Island, West Ashley, Goose Creek, Moncks Corner, North Charleston, or any of the other fine communities of the Low Country, and need to meet with an experienced personal injury lawyer, please contact me to set up your free case evaluation today. Let me help prevent you from being taken advantage of by the insurance company. I am serious and I am here for you! Contact The McMillian Law Firm today @ 843-900-1306