Will The Insurance Company Make A Fair Offer The First Time Around?
Some insurance companies will sometimes make a fair settlement offer the first time around. I’ve found that when this happens, it is usually when the policy limits (i.e. the most amount of money available to pay on a particular claim) are relatively low (under $100,000) and there is a serious injury. Under these circumstances, insurance companies will sometimes decide to just pay the policy limit the first time around. Most of the time, however, insurance companies will not make a fair offer the first time around. This is because they are motivated by profit; the sole goal of the insurance company is to make as much money as possible for their shareholders. They don’t become billion-dollar companies by paying their claims. They wouldn’t be able to afford television ads during major footballs games if they weren’t making money by lowballing injured clients.
In addition, insurance companies have an unlimited budget and lots of time. In contrast, a plaintiff’s lawyer is limited by the financial level of the plaintiff; some have millions of dollars for litigation in their war chest, and some only have a thousand. This leads to a David and Goliath dynamic, where the big bad insurance company with an unlimited budget and an unlimited amount of time goes against the plaintiff who must be cognizant of both finances and time.
Ultimately, all the money that is spent on the case in advance for our clients comes out of the settlement, and as trial lawyers, it is our goal to obtain as much money for our clients as possible. Our ability to accomplish this will be limited if we have to spend a lot of money on unnecessary costs.
Insurance companies want plaintiffs to accept less than their cases are worth. As a trial lawyer, it is my job to make sure this doesn’t happen. It has to be that way across the board for all attorneys, because I’m a big believer in the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats. If one attorney does well and doesn’t accept less than what a case is worth, then that’s going to help all trial lawyers and all plaintiffs obtain as much money as possible in every case. That is the ultimate goal.
When The Insurance Company Comes Back With A Lowball Offer Or Denies A Claim Altogether, What Do You Do?
If the insurance company makes a lowball offer or denies the claim, I will first identify the reasoning behind their actions. In some cases, our evaluation might be off, so we’ll do a real deep dive into the case to determine our weaknesses and strengths. We will also ask questions of the insurance company, and ensure that they have all of the information they need, including the plaintiff’s past and current medical records and medical bills.
Prior medical records should serve as evidence that the client has never complained of an injury or pain in the same area that was affected in the incident in question, thereby eliminating the insurance company’s ability to claim that the plaintiff had a preexisting injury. The good news is that we can obtain all of this information before we even file a lawsuit, so that when we do file a lawsuit, we’re a little bit ahead of the game.
Once we determine what’s behind the insurance company’s offer, we will be better equipped to make a decision about how to proceed. Many times, the insurance company just does not evaluate the case correctly and isn’t willing to make a fair offer, in which case a jury trial may be the next step.
Understanding the human story is so important, and it’s something the insurance companies don’t even consider. If an insurance adjuster went to a supervisor and said something like, “The injury has really affected how this person enjoys his daily activities,” they would say, “Not buying it.” The insurance companies look strictly at the numbers; they don’t dive deep into the emotional, human story behind the plaintiff, or appreciate that what we do matters.
To help people understand this issue, I share a story from another trial lawyer. This lawyer represented a client who suffered a traumatic brain injury. The lay witness in the case was a dry cleaner who said, “Before the accident where he hurt his brain, he’d come in and give me stock tips. After the accident, he could barely count his change.” This is an example of a small detail that most insurance companies would blow off and not even consider as part of their evaluation. To me, this was an important lesson to learn, and it helped humanize the plaintiff. Ultimately, the jury agreed, and there was a successful result for the plaintiff.
At our firm, we’ll take any case at any time, so long as it’s a worthy cause and there is something for us to get behind. There has to be a true human element there, because in order to win for our clients, we have to be committed to actually going to trial and doing what we say we’re going to do. We have to be able to experience and feel that injustice deep down in our souls, allow it to propel us forward, and let it motivate us to continue. When we’re preparing for trial at one o’clock in the morning, that’s what’s going to keep us moving. It is the fact that we actually care about our clients, and are therefore willing to do what it takes to beat our opponent.
To the insurance company, the plaintiff is just a number on a balance sheet, whereas we use our emotional connection and dedication to our clients in fighting for them. When a client and attorney have a solid connection and have bonded over the same goal, there is a certain swagger when they walk, and it’s palpable in the courtroom.
Attorneys have to stick to their threat of trial if they are not given a fair offer, which can be a difficult task. If we have made a reasonable settlement offer and the defense is still giving us lowball offers, then our client’s demand is a jury trial. This lets the other side know that we’re serious, and instills a fear in them of us, rather than the other way around.
The profession of trial law is really interesting in that, outside of professional sports, it’s one of the only professions where the opponent is paid to defeat their opponent—to take money away from the plaintiff. It is incredibly advantageous to not have fear and to not assume that any case will settle, but instead prepare to become entrenched and totally immersed in the issues.
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