Most personal injury cases are settled through negotiations and do not go to trial. The law does not require an injured party to retain an attorney when negotiating settlement with an insurance company. Indeed, if the injury is small, it may not make economic sense to retain an attorney. However, a great deal of gamesmanship often occurs in negotiations. If an injured party represents himself or herself, the insurance company knows they hold all of the cards.
What to Keep in Mind When Negotiating Settlement with an Insurance Company
Something to keep in mind negotiating settlement with an insurance company is that insurance companies want to settle a case for as little as possible. Moreover, the insurance claims adjuster settles claims all day long and thus, have far more experience than the injured party. You may also be dealing directly with an opposing attorney. The opposing attorney’s objective is the same as the insurance adjuster: settle the claim for as little as possible. An experienced attorney once said, “My opening offer is never reasonable. The opposing party may bite or if they hesitate, I know that I can reel them in and close the case cheap.” In either instance, if you are an injured party you may be dealing with a once in a lifetime situation, but the opposing side does it every day.
Insurance Adjusters Are Experienced
Moreover, professionals who deal with personal injury cases everyday know when an injured party is desperate. When you are hurt and out of work, bills pile up and concerns such as paying the mortgage, rent, car payments and even putting food on the table becomes an issue. The insurance adjusters can hear the desperation in your voice when you talk with them. The more desperate you sound, the less they will offer. The insurance adjuster may offer a quick settlement, but the number will be for less than the true value of the case.
Some People Are at a Greater Disadvantage
The symbol for the legal system is a blindfolded woman holding scales to weigh the evidence. The point is that the courts are supposed to weigh the evidence without regard to who is involved. While this is the goal, it does not always work that way. The reality is that some injured parties elicit more sympathy than others. Everybody loves children. So, if a small child is injured, the child will receive a larger return than a much older person for certain damages. In some instances, that is valid and based on math. If an eighty-year-old and a six-year-old will need assistance for the balance of their lives, all other things being equal, the six-year-old will need more money because she has more years in front of her than the eighty-year-old.
However, sometimes factors that are not relevant can come into play. Insurance adjusters are not interested in justice; that is not their job. If they spot a weakness, they will exploit it. For example, assume a six-year-old girl and a twenty-six-year-old motorcyclist are both injured due to someone else’s negligence. The six-year-old is cute with big eyes that fill with tears when she recounts the accident. The twenty-six-year-old fits a stereotype. He is covered with tattoos and frequently uses profanity. The hard damages, such as medical bills, may be the same. However, if a claim for pain and suffering is an issue, the injured child will be treated better by the jury than the twenty-six-year-old. Insurance adjusters know this and calculate that into their settlement offer. That is fine for the cute six-year-old girl, but what about the twenty-six-year-old who uses too much profanity and is covered with tattoos?
Negotiating with an insurance company is based on two components. One is hard numbers, the other is gamesmanship. Hard numbers include damages such as medical bills, lost wages, and damage to property such as an automobile. Those numbers can be debated, but at the end of the day, the damages can be substantiated and documented. For example, if you are injured and are out of work for three weeks, your loss is three weeks of wages. The same is true with medical bills that have been incurred, that have a solid verifiable number. A personal injury attorney will help you to collect and organize these numbers. That sends two messages to the insurance adjuster. One, you have the numbers and can back-up what you say. Two, you are organized and prepared. The adjuster knows it is harder to short-change a person who knows what they are doing.
Some issues involve more than documenting numbers. When negotiating settlement with an insurance company, fault has to be determined. Illinois is a modified comparative negligence state. That means an injured party’s award is reduced by the degree of fault he or she was responsible for in the accident. However, a party more than 50% at fault is not entitled to any compensation. In some instances, fault is clear and rests with one person. Other times, fault lies with both parties. In that instance, the injured party needs to gather evidence that the party who injured them was at a higher degree of fault. The more evidence you can present in the negotiation stage, the better settlement offer you will receive.