Is the Insurance Company Refusing to Pay or Offering an Unreasonably Low Amount?
Following an accident that wasn't your fault, you might think that the claims process should be straightforward. Unfortunately, however, some insurance companies use deceptive strategies to try to reduce or avoid paying car accident claims to injured victims. Some of the dirty tactics an insurance company might use include unreasonably delaying your claim, denying your claim even though the liability of the other driver is clear, or extending a lowball offer even though you suffered severe injuries. A personal injury lawyer understands the tactics insurance companies use to try to avoid paying claims and how to effectively counteract them. When an insurance company engages in bad-faith actions during the claims process, it might be liable to pay damages to you through a bad-faith insurance claim. An attorney might help you recover the damages to which you should be entitled and put an end to bad-faith tactics. Here are some signs that might indicate an insurer is attempting to lowball your claim.Making Fast Offers
In some cases, insurance companies will make fast offers soon after an accident. They might make an early settlement offer to try to convince an accident victim that their claim isn't worth very much and to try to convince them to accept it. If you accept an early settlement offer, you will be barred from asking for additional compensation later when you learn that it was insufficient to cover your losses. In most cases, fast settlement offers are likely unreasonably low.
Insurance claims take time to investigate. An offer that comes quickly likely won't be supported by the thorough investigation needed to properly value it. A detailed, thorough claim typically includes the following types of evidence:
- Extensive medical documentation, including bills, tests, doctor's notes, lab tests, and more
- Statements from witnesses
- Accident reports
- Detailed timeline of what happened
- Proof of damages
When an adjuster doesn't take the time to investigate and gather all of these types of evidence and others, they are likely trying to pay you as little as possible and probably didn't consider how the accident affected your finances, emotional health, and physical health.
Settlements can sometimes happen fairly quickly, but a fast settlement is typically only possible in straightforward cases involving property damage only or minor injuries. When a case involves serious injuries, the process will likely take longer.Using Pressure and Coercion
An insurance company might try to pressure you into settling quickly. Some insurance companies try to deal with an injured claimant directly to take advantage of the fact that they don't have the experience, patience, or time necessary to engage in lengthy negotiations. The insurance company might tell you or imply that its lowball offer is the maximum they will offer and tell you that you should accept it.
You also might be told that you don't have time to consult a lawyer before you accept the insurance company's offer. The adjuster might imply that they will take the offer away if you talk to an attorney. However, the reality is that the insurance company wants to coerce you into accepting its lowball offer before you have a chance to have your claim properly valued by a lawyer and learn that your claim is worth far more than the company's offer.
Under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 335.1, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim is two years. This means that you do have time to consult a lawyer, and you should before accepting an offer made by the insurance company.Ignoring or Dismissing Evidence
Another common tactic used by some insurance companies to avoid paying accident victims the compensation they deserve is ignoring or dismissing evidence their insureds are liable. An insurance company might try to blame you for your accident either partially or wholly to try to avoid paying you or to pay you less than what you should receive.
To combat this tactic, your attorney will investigate your case and gather evidence that clearly shows each of the elements of negligence and present it to the insurance company to support your claim. If the insurance company tries to ignore or dismiss the evidence, your lawyer can use it in court if necessary.Disputing the Extent or Severity of Your Injuries
Some insurance adjusters try to dispute the extent or severity of the injuries suffered by accident victims to have a reason for paying them less. An adjuster might argue that your injuries resulted from an intervening incident or are symptoms of a pre-existing condition.
After your accident, take pictures of any visible injuries and get copies of imaging tests and x-rays that show internal damage. Your doctor can also write a statement that your injuries were caused by your accident. You should also keep a daily journal about how your injuries affect your daily life and ability to engage in the activities you previously enjoyed. Finally, make sure to follow your doctor's recommendations and attend all of your medical appointments. Doing these things can help to prove the severity of your injuries and counteract attempts made by the adjuster to discount them.
While it's important to document your injuries, you should not authorize an insurance company's access to your complete medical record. If the insurance company asks you to sign a medical authorization, decline to do so. Talk to an attorney for help if you are told that the insurance company needs access to your medical records before it will settle your claim.Refusing to Explain How They Calculated Your Damages
When an insurance adjuster presents you with an offer, you have the right to ask them how they calculated your damages, including your pain and suffering damages. Your economic damages, including your vehicle repairs and medical bills, are typically straightforward to calculate. However, non-economic damages are more difficult to value and are likelier to be undervalued by an unscrupulous insurance adjuster. If the adjuster won't explain how it arrived at the value of your claim, they are likely lowballing you.Assigning Unwarranted Blame to You
The insurance company might try to blame you for your accident in part or whole. California follows the principle of pure comparative fault, which means that being partly to blame for an accident won't bar you from recovering damages. However, if the insurance company can find you partially at fault, your damages will be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to you. For this reason, many insurance companies try to claim accident victims are at least partially at fault so that they can get away with paying less.Stopping Communications
Some companies suddenly stop communicating with accident victims to get them to accept lowball offers. Your phone calls might be unreturned, and your emails might not be answered. Insurance adjusters use silence to create anxiety in accident victims when they are facing mounting medical expenses and other losses while also trying to recover from their injuries. This tactic is used to make you panic so that you will accept whatever offer the company might make. Ending communications with an injured accident victim to try to lure them into taking an unreasonably low offer is underhanded. You should not be in a position of having to track down an insurance adjuster to obtain a fair settlement.Implying an Offer Is Non-Negotiable
One reason why an insurance company might be silent after you turn down an unreasonably low offer is that they don't want you to understand that settlements are negotiable. You can and should make a counteroffer. Most people do not understand their rights when they are contending with an insurance company. When they are also trying to recover from their injuries, they are not on even footing with the company and will have a more difficult time reaching a fair settlement without the help of an experienced attorney.
If the insurance company makes an unreasonably low settlement offer for a claim you filed on your own, you have three choices. You can accept the offer, try to negotiate a higher amount, or file a lawsuit. Choosing to negotiate or file a lawsuit will likely require the help of an experienced injury lawyer. To maximize your settlement, it is best to retain a lawyer as soon as possible after your accident so that you can avoid making critical errors that could harm your claim. When you hire a lawyer early, your attorney can also gather evidence that could otherwise be lost with time.
While you are not required to retain an attorney to file a lawsuit, it is rarely a good idea to try to represent yourself in court. There are numerous deadlines and procedural rules. When you represent yourself, the court will expect you to have the same level of knowledge and understanding of the applicable laws and rules as an attorney. The insurance company will have experienced defense lawyers ready to vigorously fight your claim, so you should also have an experienced plaintiff's attorney to represent your interests and fight for your rights.Consult an Experienced Injury Lawyer
If you have been injured in an accident that was caused by someone else, you should reach out to an experienced attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC. We know the tactics insurance companies use to try to get out of paying what accident victims are entitled to receive. If you have received an early settlement offer, we can evaluate it based on the facts of your case and explain what a fair settlement offer might be. Call us today to schedule a free consultation at 866-966-5240.