Yes, but so what?
Let’s Talk About the Adjuster
Adjusters work for insurance companies, and insurance companies are regimented in the way they do things. Adjusters have to account for every move they make on a case. Each decision they make is being watched. There are methods on claim negotiation that these adjusters employ to meet the insurane company's goal.
What is the goal?
The insurance company’s goal is resolve the claim quickly and cheaply. If the initial adjuster you deal with on your injury claim can get you to resolve the claim for a small amount of money soon after the collision or injury, they are doing their job: saving the insurance company money. And if they do it well, they are often rewarded.
Typically, the adjuster you deal with initially is not all that experienced but is trained to get a quick and inexpensive settlement.
The Old “Fake Deadline” Trick
One of tactic is the fake deadline. It goes something like this:
- A settlement offer is made;
- There may be some discussions about it, maybe even a counter proposal from the injured person;
- Another offer may have been made;
- If the injured person hesitates on the offer, a letter or call is made saying that the offer is only good for “X” days, and if not accepted, the file will be “closed.”
Obviously, the threat here is that the injured person is losing any claim they have and will be unable to recover any compensation for their injury. But what is really happening?
Yes, the adjuster is free to close their file, and they could even withdraw any settlement offers (We do not see this happen very often). However, state law, not the adjuster, determines the time limit you have to pursue your case.
The Real Deadline
In Oregon, and injured person generally has two years from the date of the injury to have their case filed in the appropriate court or resolved by a settlement agreement. This is often referred to as a “statute of limitation.”
This is a GENERAL rule, and other, shorter time limits could apply. For example, in claims against a governent agency, there are notice requirements. Claims against providers of alochol for serving a visibly intoxicated person also include tight deadlines to notify the alcohol provider of the claim. However, when an adjuster decides to close the file, the claim does not suddenly disappear.
Why Adjusters Use the Fake Deadline Trick
Below are examples from actual cases we worked on showing how an attempt to “close the file” or run out the clock on the statute of limitation did not work for the insurance adjuster.
- We represented a young woman who sustained a major injury at a commercial establishment. She contacted us within weeks of the two-year time limit expired for resolving or filing her case. The insurance adjuster had made no offers, and based on our review of the file, it appeared that the adjuster was hoping the time limit would run and our client would not be able to bring a claim. We were able to get the case filed at the last minute and resolve the case for close to $200,000.00. This is not an ideal situation, and if we had to do it over again, we would have had the client contact us much sooner in the process. Still, we were able to beat the deadline and resolve the case in our client’s favor.
- In a recent case, our client was driving southbound on Highway 101 when another car pulled out from a side street and failed to yield the right-of-way to our client. The collision was high-impact, and our client immediately reported symptoms consistent with traumatic brain injury. She sought various modes of therapy to help with her ongoing symptoms. We were involved in this case in plenty of time. However, the initial offer from the initial adjuster was in the $5,000.00 range. We filed the case, exchanged medical records and other documents, and after deposition, resolve the claim for $80,000.00 in addition to medical expenses.
- Another recent case drives home this point. Our client was driving southbound on Highway 101 in Tillamook County, and another driver pulled out into our client’s lane of travel when attempting to make a “U” term. Our client, who had suffered serious injuries in other previous collisions, struggled with strain and sprain injuries, and a concussion. The initial offer on this case was $4,000.00 plus the medical expenses. After we file the matter, a defense attorney deposed our client, and the case quickly resolved for $40,000.00 plus the medical expenses.
These cases are illustrations, and every case has unique issues that determine settlement value or potential recovery at a jury trial. However, a common theme here is an insurance company attempting to resolve the claim for an amount many times less than its potential settlement value.
The “Attorney Will Get All Your Money” Trick
Another common tactic is the “the attorney will get all your money” threat. This may not even be legal, but just like driving too fast on the freeway, it’s common. An attorney will get “some of your money.” But when you consider the examples above, it may be well worth it. Again, this is not true in every case, but it is certainly true much of the time.
The “Minor” Injury Case
We frequently get calls from folks who suffered an injury in a collision, but luckily for them, it’s temporary and minor. In these kinds of cases, it may not make sense to have an attorney involved because the case will only have so much settlement value, and having an attorney involved may not be cost effective.
When we confer with these folks, one thing we emphasize is the two-year time limit (again there could be other time limits) and how it allows them to make sure that they are in fact totally recovered from the minor injury. It makes sense to take a few months to make sure you can do all of your pre-injury activities without issues. Then, when you are convinced that you are 100% back on track, you can entertain resolving the claim.
There are some “minor” to “moderate” injury claims that may deserve an attorney’s attention. Oregon statute allows an attorney to make a demand for $10,000.00 or less for injury and property damage claims. If the adjuster does not respond within thirty days of the demand, or offers less than the amount demanded, there is a potential for recovery of attorney fees if the case is filed in court and the attorney obtains a result greater than the amount offered before trial. This statute will often prompt a more realistic settlement offer from an insurance adjuster because of the threat of paying attorney fees on top of compensation for the injury.
Why Patience is a Virtue
When we confer with a potential client, we emphasize the virtue of patience (again respecting all time limits) in resolving an injury claim. The example below drives this point home.
- A hairstylist contacted me many years ago. She had been rear-ended in an auto collision. About two weeks after the collision, the insurance adjuster offered her $500.00 to resolve the claim. The hairstylist accepted the offer and signed the settlement agreement. A few weeks went by, and the hairstylist noticed that when she had her arms outstretched while cutting hair, pain shot from her neck into the arms. Her arms were weak, and she lost sensation in her hands. She was struggling with her work. A visit to the doctor revealed that the collision caused herniated a disc in her neck and required surgery. We tried to find a way to nullify the settlement agreement, but unfortunately, it was legally valid, leaving the hairstylist all on her own to get the medical care she needed.
This happened thirty years ago, and I have never forgotten it. I share this story at least once week when explaining the seriousness of a claim settlement.
The Bottom Line
The insurance company adjuster for the other driver, or the at fault driver, is not your friend, and they are not going to “look out” for you, no matter how friendly they may seem. Their job is to resolve the claim for as little and as quickly as possible.