If you are in an accident with injuries major enough to require an ambulance or a trip to an ER, an accident serious enough for your car to sustain a major or total loss, then you will be at a disadvantage when attempting to negotiate directly with the insurance company. Your impulse might be to try to handle this on your own, but it is an impulse you should resist.
In my thirty years of practice, I have represented so many people who have been poorly treated by insurance companies in these very serious accident cases. They have dozens of tricks to avoid paying you or to underpay you.
You are likely a decent person, so you think the impulse of an adjuster will be to treat you well in your hour of need. But insurance adjusters are not your friends.
You don’t know what your case is worth.
If most people knew what their case was really worth, they wouldn’t settle with insurance companies for a fraction of the case’s value, but it happens every day. They will try to pressure and scare people into taking their lowball offers as well, stating that you take the offer now or you risk never getting paid. In reality…you take the offer now, and you cut off your ability to negotiate a real settlement later, with help from an attorney who knows how much to ask for.
Talking to the insurance company invariably means making mistakes.
They’ll tell you they can’t possibly process the claim if you don’t sign over a medical release and give them a recorded statement. In reality, they can and should. They are just looking for ways to shift the fault to you, or they’re looking for pre-existing conditions so they can downplay the injuries they are actually responsible for.
Example #1 of why having a lawyer to negotiate with the insurance company is important – Roseville, CA car accident
In March of 2020, my client was injured in a serious motor vehicle accident near Roseville. They were on I-80 near the Hwy 65 overpass.
They required an ambulance and an ER visit.
The client already had significant pre-existing problems with back and neck pain. The new injuries aggravated those pre-existing conditions.
The insurance company’s offer? $15,000.
I filed a lawsuit and served it on the other driver. Before the case got near the litigation stage, we got a new $70,000 offer from the insurance company.
Without a lawyer, the client would have found it impossible to talk $15,000 up to $70,000. The threat of litigation is what pushed them to start treating those injuries with respect.
Example #2 of why having a lawyer to negotiate with the insurance company is important – Auburn, CA Hwy 49 car accident
Another client was injured on Hwy 49, near Luther Rd. in Auburn, CA.
The client was sandwiched between two cars, one that struck her BMW from behind, driving her into the car in front of her.
She went to the Kaiser Roseville ER.
She had neck, back, and hip pain. She had prior low back and hip issues. Her hip problems became severe over time, and she needed a hip replacement 10 months after the accident.
Had she handled the issue on her own, the insurance company would have offered her little more than $10,000. They would deny that the accident had anything to do with her need for hip surgery 10 months later.
But lawyers know that people can recover for the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions. It is not always a “get out of jail free” card for insurance companies. We know that doctors will testify that an accident can serve as the literal “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
This case was settled for $100,000. You walk away with far more money with a lawyer’s help, even after our contingency fees are accounted for.
Example #3 of why having a lawyer to negotiate with the insurance company is important – Clovis, CA car accident
A client was taking her children to a cheerleading competition in Fresno, CA. She got broadsided in Clovis, CA. The motorist was uninsured.
They all went to the ER. The children sustained no injuries, but my client did. She had emotional distress, pain and suffering, and soft tissue injuries in her neck and back. There were no broken bones. There was no surgery, there was no neurological damage. The injuries were classified as sprains and strains.
Her own insurance company, Farmers, offers the whole family $15,000 prior to any litigation.
I demanded arbitration on behalf of the mom and kids on the uninsured motorist portion of the policy. Because the litigation now involved a lawyer, the claim got reassigned to a litigation claims adjuster, which is a higher up position within the insurance company.
The demand for arbitration triggered a new offer of 55K, and the client is now happy with the settlement.
Even your own insurance company might try to undervalue your claim if you don’t get help from an attorney.
When can you negotiate with the insurance company?
Insurance companies usually don’t fight very hard over minor cases. If there’s no police report, you don’t need medical attention on the day of the accident, there’s only minor, visible property damage, and your car still drives, then usually the insurance company will just cut you a quick check for the actual cost of the damages.
It’s not worth it to them to get into a legal fight over a few thousand dollars, and they bank on the goodwill that gets generated in those smaller, more minor cases. In addition, if you didn’t call the police and you didn’t get medical care you don’t have much of a case to begin with. At that point, you might as well just see what you can get from the insurance companies. In those cases, the offer is generally enough to get you what you need.
But if you’ve suffered significant, substantial trauma and physical injury then watch out. Your case is expensive and they will refuse to negotiate with you in good faith unless you bring a lawyer into the mix. I start with negotiation, but when an insurance company does not negotiate with me in good faith, I file a lawsuit on your behalf.