Great Advice for Negotiating a Personal Injury Case

If you are attempting to settle your Massachusetts injury claim without an attorney, you are going to need to know a few things about insurance adjusters.  The following was written by Maryland personal injury attorney Ronald Miller who wrote a guest post for the Trial Lawyer Resource Center.  Note that the post is geared towards personal injury attorneys who deal with claims adjusters on a routine basis.  Nonetheless, the post will educate you about aspects about the negotiating process you may not be aware of.  Here is the post:

Every day, I speak to insurance claims adjusters on the phone attempting to resolve personal injury cases.  It is dangerous to try to put people with complex goals and motives into simple boxes.  But let’s do it anyway. 

There are three categories of insurance adjusters: (1) "It is not my money, I just want to get this file off my desk one way or another and keep my job"; (2) "It is not the insurance companies’ money, it is my money.  Moreover, all claimants are liars and I’m dying to litigate these cases over the phone with you in an effort to repeatedly underscore my view of personal injury victims generally;" and (3) "I know my job is important, I am competent, and I evaluate cases fairly on a case-by-case basis.  I’m not paying more on a case than I think it is worth but I’m also not afraid to pay it what it is worth." Luckily, most adjusters fall into category one or three.

The Category 2 adjusters are pretty difficult to have a meaningful conversation with because they are so dogmatic in their thinking that is generally limited to Colossus and its brethren.     But I think it is very important to fully hear out Category 1 and Category 3 adjusters.   An insurance adjuster is a human being (save your jokes) like everyone else and wants not only to articulate their position but also to feel like the lawyer on the other end of the conversation is listening to them.  The human psychology is to just shut them down because, subconsciously, attorneys think that the more the adjuster is able to articulate that hurts our case the more closed minded the adjuster will be.  But just the opposite is true.  Respect begets respect and you more likely to reach common ground with the perception that you fully considered all sides of the story in making your arguments.

A few more random thoughts on negotiating with insurance adjusters, in no particular order:

1.  The Adjuster Is Not Your High School Girlfriend:  If negotiations end badly, agreed to disagree and file suit.   Do not get mad at the claims adjuster. You can remind the adjuster that you have facts about the case (the quality of the client or whatever the facts may be) that reviewing the medical records could not possibly give the adjuster.  If this is the problem, it is obviously not the adjuster’s fault that the medical records don’t fully give a lens to the value of the case.  Discovery can resolve this and, if it does not, this is why we have juries.  Don’t take it personally.

2.  Send a Copy of Your Discovery and Complaint with Your Demand Package:  The reality is that most personal injury lawyers have no interest in filing a lawsuit.  If you are different, remind the insurance adjuster of this fact by including a Complaint and detailed discovery.  For sample Complaints and discovery, visit the Personal Injury Lawyer Help Center for samples. (This will offend a few who think this is a declaration of hostilities. But I think most accept it for what it is, a message that you are ready to go if the case does not settle.)

3.  Filing Suit Is Not a Declaration of War:  This is particularly true in smaller cases.  Most adjusters do not fear a lawsuit, so do not act like it is magic elixir you have to take away the adjuster’s power.  Acting like a lawsuit is a major event often underscores to the insurance adjuster that you are not an experienced lawyer because experienced lawyers file case on a routine basis.

4.  Save the "I’m a Lawyer" nonsense: This is the great way to alienate an adjuster.  It is also obnoxious. 

5.   Meet the Adjusters: This is hard to do in the real world.  But I have visited a number of insurance companies during "Settlement Days" where companies try to settle a large number of cases at one time.  My relationship with the adjusters I have met is always different than before we met.