After decades of dealing with insurance adjusters in personal injury cases, this Syracuse personal injury attorney has come up with his personal list of do’s and don’ts in his dealings with them. I published my first two rules yesterday here. Below are the last three rules for dealing with a personal injury insurance adjuster:
Rule # 3: Know the Medical Records Better than the Adjuster
When adjusters calls me, I often put them into voicemail so I can review the medical records and highlight the key facts before speaking to them. I then call them back with the highlighted records in front of me. Now I am ready to talk. That’s because adjusters often have a “cherry-pick” method of discussing a case. They take only selective quotes from doctors that supports their position that the injuries are not so bad. But it won’t work with me. I am ready to cherry-pick back at them. The adjusters will quickly see I am no pushover and they are going to have to deal with me, and with ALL the medical records, not just their selective reading of them. Believe me, it’s worth the effort.
Rule # 4: Send a Well-Prepared and Organized Demand Package
When you are ready to try to settle, don’t just flop the medical records into an envelope addressed to the adjuster with a note saying “our settlement demand is $____.” You are an ADVOCATE. Your job is to ADVOCATE for your client. That means highlighting the most salient facts that support your client’s case. Yes, you are cherry-picking. But NOT like the adjuster does. You don’t ignore bad facts. You address them. You explain why they are not as damaging as they seem. You point out how the good facts – the ones that help your client – are likely to have more impact on a jury. This goes for both the liability aspects of the case (who’s fault was it?) and the damages aspect (how much are the injuries worth?).
I like to copy and paste relevant photographs, charts, and selective sections of the medical records right into the body of the letter. This makes a more impressive and well organized presentation than enclosing loose documents and photos, or even attaching numbered exhibits. The adjuster won’t have to pause to search for the documents you are referencing. The relevant portions of supporting documents are right there in the body of the letter.
The goal is to impress the adjuster with how organized you are. You want to show the adjuster the kind of organized, intensive campaign she’ll be up against at trial if she doesn’t settle. The psychological impact on the adjuster should not be undervalued. Conversely, the wrong impression results from demand packages containing no cogent advocacy, enclosing loose or incomplete and unorganized medical records or irrelevant junk.
Rule # 5: Never Bid Against Yourself and Never Respond to a “Would-You-Take”.
The first salvo in a personal injury case negotiation is, by tradition, the plaintiff’s opening bid. The insurance adjuster rarely makes the first offer. Instead, she will invite me to make a demand. Let’s say my demand is $100,000. If the adjuster thinks I am a novice, or an idiot, she might respond by saying, “you are way too high. If you can come down to something more reasonable, we might get this settled”. And if I am a novice or an idiot, I might say, “ok, what about $80,000”?
That’s called “bidding against oneself”. I just bid $80k against my own $100K. If I keep this up, I can get all the way down to $0k without ever having received an OFFER. This is called shooting oneself in the foot. It’s also called lunacy. NEVER DO IT. Instead respond, “well, what’s your settlement offer? I am NOT bidding against myself!” If she says, “$20,000”, ok, that’s way too low, but at least she has bid something against your $100,000. Maybe you can work with her now, or maybe you can’t. But it’s a start.
The “would-you-take” offer is similar to bidding against yourself. Here’s the trick the adjuster wants to dupe you with: The adjuster says, “hey, I know your demand is $100,000, but would you take $80,000”. If you say “yes”, she will say, “ok, I’ll see if I can get that from my supervisor”. She won’t get it. She has tricked you into bidding against yourself. You are now down to $80k, and she hasn’t put up a dime. She’ll likely come back with $20k, and now it is 20k against your 80k rather than 20k against your 100k. Don’t be a sucker for a “would-you-take” offer. My response to a “would-you-take?”: “Would you make an offer please? I don’t respond to “would-you-takes”.
Conclusion: Negotiating a personal injury settlement in New York or elsewhere can be fun. But it is more fun when you score a great settlement. To get that kind of result, follow the five cardinal rules: (1) Do not let your client give a recorded statement; (2) Don’t allow the Adjuster to calculate the settlement as a multiplier of the “specials”; (3) Know the medical records better than the adjuster; (4) Send a well-prepared and organized demand package; (5) Never bid against yourself.
Have fun and score big.