Thursday, March 25, 2010

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Dealing with Claims Handlers

Fifty percent of my case load involves chasing the ambulance personal injury litigation and the other fifty percent involves stretching corporate litigation. In other words 100% of my job involves fighting with someone.

Over the past several days, I have been dealing with a lot of claims adjustors on a multitude of cases that I am trying to get wrapped up. Thankfully, I’ve been able to settle several of my problem cases and reduce my overall stress level.

After concluding these negotiation processes, it is clear that it’s not stereotyping if it is true you can predict the experience you are going to have in the settlement process just by seeing the company name or organization that you are dealing with.

Corporate Insurance Carrier
Motto: "We never hurt you. But here is a pile of money for you to shut up about it."

These sorts of insurance carriers vary in size and quality, but the claims handlers tend to be able to quickly process a settlement demand. Since we have a high threshold for our potential clients (clear liability only if you please), we don’t often have negative experiences with these claims handlers.
Us: The client had neck surgery, has a fusion, and $150,000 in medicals. Our demand is $700,000
Them: I’ve got $25,000 to give you and not a penny more.
Us: F*** you. We’re going to trial
Them: Turns out my manager just authorized $350,000.
Us: Deal
This is the best case scenario as there is decent money, no litigation and a settlement check that clears when taken to the bank.

Overall Experience: Positive with a hint of melancholy as we did not receive more money.

Sub-Standard Auto Insurance Carrier
Motto: "Our drivers are barely legal, always at fault and we won't settle."

As my created motto implies, they provided insurance policies at the minimum policy allowed by law (in the State of Illinois that is $20,000/$40,000). The claims handlers are overworked, dispirited and probably abuse their pets. These insurance companies do not publish fax numbers, have no e-mail addresses and have set up shop in some obscure location (next to wherever Jimmy Hoffa is located). Attempting to negotiate with these people is like trying to drink water with a fork.
Us: Your insured hit our client, a pedestrian, who was walking in the crosswalk.
Them: There’s no liability here. We are going to litigate this and file a counter-claim against your client for property damage.
Six months later
Us: You’ve taken the depositions of every possible witness involved, your client admitted fault under oath and discovery is now closed. You know our policy demand is reasonable as my client was in the ICU for a month! The policy is $20,000. Medical bills alone are in excess of $250,000.
Them: I’ve been authorized to settle for $5,000.
You have to threaten them with withdrawing your offer, going for bad faith damages and hiring a hit man to kill their loved ones. It's not fun. Not. at. all.

Overall Experience: Extremely Negative. Dealing with these individuals makes me want to experience the birthing process while receiving oral surgery while doing my taxes.

Self-Insured Municipality
Motto: "Corrupt? No, Just incompetent"

As the name implies, this is the torts division of a major municipality who knows, I could be talking about Peoria. They are protected by law against “negligence” which “sucks”. I’ve had a dozen or so cases against this office and they all go on the same way:
Us: I’d like to talk to the handling attorney on the Jones Matter.
Them: …
Us: Hello? Hello?
Into the black hole everything goes. Each attorney I have ever dealt with in this office shares these traits: (1) never answer their phone, (2) they do not respond to letters or faxes and (3) They do not show up for regular court dates. If you are able to reach a verdict or settlement, good luck getting your check. Because it’ll get lost in the bureaucratic nightmare known as the “mail”

Overall Experience: I’m still waiting for one.