You’re in an accident. Your car is damaged. You’ve suffered some injuries. What should you expect from the insurance claims process?
More importantly, should you settle with the insurance company? Or should you fight?
What’s an Insurance Settlement?
In essence, a settlement is an amount of money given to you in exchange for a release of claim. That means that an injured person is giving up his right to pursue a lawsuit against the at-fault person or company for damages. Once you choose to accept a settlement, it is all the money you will ever get for your recovery.
Claims Process Overview
Let’s use an example. Mr. Jones and Ms. Smith crash their cars together. Ms. Smith was driving the wrong way down a one-way road and collided with Mr. Jones, who was following all appropriate driving regulations. Both are injured; what happens next?
- Both drivers’ insurance companies need to be notified. This is a requirement almost all insurance companies have so that they have a chance to investigate the accident scene, identify witnesses, and collect evidence while it is fresh.
- Mr. Jones makes a claim to his or Ms. Smith’s insurance company. Filing a claim starts the evaluation process. The insurance company will examine the evidence: existing medical costs, expected future medical costs, property damage, and other elements of recovery.
- Based on the evaluation, the insurance company offers Mr. Jones a sum of money (the settlement). Mr. Jones then has three options:
- A. Accept the offer. If he accepts the offer, he receives the amount of money offered by the insurance company and gives up any further claims regarding this accident.
- B. Reject the offer. If he refuses to accept the offer, there is no agreement and he may pursue further claims or file a lawsuit. This does not necessarily mean that Mr. Jones will end up receiving more than the insurance company originally offered, however.
- C. Counteroffer. Mr. Jones, instead of accepting or rejecting the offer, asks for more money than the insurance company originally offered. This counteroffer may be rejected or accepted by the company.
Insurance Company Tactics
If only dealing with insurance companies was that simple and above-board. It’s not. Even in minor accidents, the amount of paperwork and back-and-forth between you and the claims adjuster is headache-inducing. If the insurance company decides to hold out, then you have a serious problem that can drag for months or even years, while your medical and repair bills pile up.
Remember, the insurance company wants you to take the first settlement offer that comes along, regardless of whether it covers your damages! Here are some tactics that insurance companies often use:
- Lowballing: This is when the initial settlement offer the company makes is low, much lower than is reasonable for your accident and injuries. The company offers this small amount on the off chance that you will not know how unfair it is, and take it to get the process over with. This is why you should never accept a first offer outright; not without consulting an experienced accident attorney.
- Delaying: Companies often deliberately drag their feet on responding to your calls, gathering all the evidence, making an evaluation, and “considering” the settlement offer and counteroffer. Why? Because as long as the money stays in their bank accounts, it is making interest for them. Also, people are more likely to get discouraged and accept any offer that comes along (finally). Don’t fall into this trap. If you’re serious about getting resolution, hire your own attorney to tackle the unresponsive insurance company. Once a legal professional is involved, the company is less likely to delay.
- Bad Faith: Here’s an example of a bad-faith insurance practice: a woman was hit by an uninsured motorist. Her insurance company kept refusing to pay out under her $2 million coverage because it was an "intentional" crash on the at-fault driver’s part, not an "accident"! Bad faith insurance practice happens when a company continues to deny a reasonable claim for no good, legitimate reason. When your claim is continually rejected in this manner, you have grounds for a lawsuit against the insurance company, separate from your accident claim.
Negotiating with Insurance Companies
Sending letters and counteroffers to your insurance adjuster is a hassle, but necessary to receive just compensation for your property damage and injuries. Companies and adjusters are much more likely to cooperate with you and play by the rules if you have an attorney, even if only to get the attorney out of their hair.
Your attorney will handle all correspondence and legal back-and-forth with the adjuster regarding your claim, and negotiate a satisfactory settlement. Your attorney will also document everything in case a lawsuit needs to be filed to get you fair compensation.
Car Accident Help can assist with the process of valuing, investigating, and ultimately, making the decision to settle a case based on a client’s best interests. We are here to support the rights of those who have been harmed by the actions of others. Contact us at (405) 285-4357 today.
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