Many people feel they do not need a personal injury attorney and are quite happy to represent themselves. They think—perhaps quite rightly—that their case is a straightforward one and that they don’t need to acquire professional help. If you are one of those thinking of tackling the insurance companies alone, there are a number of things you need to know to be successful when negotiating an auto injury settlement claim.
The Basic Process for Negotiating Your Oregon Auto Insurance Settlement
The normal timeline in auto insurance settlement negotiations, or other personal injury lawsuits involving insurance companies, usually goes something like this:
- You’ve been in an accident that wasn’t your fault, or you were the victim of medical malpractice, premises liability, or someone else’s negligence.
- You see a doctor or other medical professional to determine the extent of your injuries and to determine how those injuries are likely to affect you in the future, including the cost of any ongoing treatment or physical therapy.
- You put together all your supporting documentation, together with as much evidence regarding your injuries as you can gather. This might include things like police reports, witness statements, hospital records, etc.
- You come up with what you feel is a fair settlement figure, and you send a demand letter to the relevant insurance company, either your own (if the other party was uninsured or where there’s no possibility of being covered by third party insurance) or the insurance company of the person who injured you.
- The negotiations begin.
What happens next with my auto insurance settlement?
If you have put together a sound, reasonable and well-documented case, it is still an almost cast iron certainty that the insurance company will phone you with an offer lower than that which you demanded in your letter. An adjuster will try to point out weaknesses in your claim and will offer you a settlement which may be anything from slightly less to significantly less than your initial demand.
The insurance company will then expect you to come back with a counter offer. This is simply the way the process works. Your counter-claim will be higher than the insurance company’s offer but lower than your initial claim, regardless of how fair that claim was. This is one of the main reasons—along with the research and compilation of records required to formulate a solid claim—that the advice of a reputable personal injury attorney should be before you commence auto insurance settlement negotiations. Once the negotiations have started, it’s still not too late to bring a personal injury lawyer into the fray, but the injured party would certainly be in a much stronger position if they had representation from the beginning.
You may also receive a “reservation of rights” letter from the insurance company, which is a relatively standard practice in the insurance industry. The letter generally informs you that the company is investigating your claim but that they are not guaranteeing your accident is actually covered under their policy. While perfectly legal, when these letters are sent to people who aren’t used to dealing with insurance companies, they can often have the following effects:
- Injured people panic, thinking they will be paid nothing.
- They then jump at the first settlement the insurance company finally makes them, even if that offer is blatantly unfair and significantly lower than the initial demand.
How should I approach the negotiation process?
If you still feel strongly that you want to represent yourself in your auto insurance settlement negotiations, it’s important that you:
- Very carefully consider what you feel is a fair settlement and place it within a range. Demand the top end of that range.
- Decide on the minimum amount you’re willing to accept and stick to it. Never reveal that number to the insurance adjuster however. Having a minimum number in your head will help you when the negotiations become intense.
- If the adjuster does point out some weakness in your case that you feel is accurate, and which you hadn’t thought of yourself, you may have to reconsider your bottom line.
- Conversely, if the adjuster makes an initial offer that is close to or even slightly higher than the minimum figure you’ve decided upon, you may want to mentally revise your figure upwards.
- Never accept the first offer. If you do, the insurance adjuster will actually be quietly surprised. They expect you to negotiate.
- If the figure offered is ridiculously low, it is likely the insurance adjuster is simply testing you to see if you know what you’re doing. Ask the adjuster to justify the unreasonably low offer, and then write a letter to the company explaining why your initial demand is fair.
- If the figure offered is close to what you want and you genuinely feel it’s a fair offer, you could quickly make a counter offer that is slightly higher than what’s been offered but lower than your initial demand. This shows the insurance company you’re willing to be fair, and your auto insurance settlement negotiations could be concluded quickly.
- Don’t be afraid to mention emotionally powerful factors. Was your injury exceptionally painful or disfiguring? Did it interfere with your ability to care for a child or a dependent parent? Will you suffer long term pain and suffering as a result of what was entirely the fault of someone else? While it’s not always easy to put a dollar value on these things, they can still be very powerful if your case goes to court, and the insurer will know this.
Clearly, auto insurance settlement negotiations can be a minefield of offer and counter-offer. They require you to be very well prepared to face any number of tactics that insurance companies use to save themselves money. If you have any doubts whatever that you’ll be able to run this gauntlet on your own, you should consider contacting an experienced and dedicated Portland auto insurance injury lawyer. They understand all the tactics used by the insurance companies, and they know how to put together the strongest possible case on your behalf, to get you the compensation you deserve. Your consultation is free, so get some advice from an experienced professional before deciding how to proceed.