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. Check my five hard-and-fast rules here:
Rule #1: Do Not Allow Your Client to Give a Recorded Statement
This is rule number 1. It’s hard for me to figure out why insurance adjusters keep asking for this. I can only assume it’s because some personal injury lawyers are
dumb naïve enough to allow them. The adjusters try to sell the recorded interview by telling you that, once they have it, the case is more likely to settle. They will say it will help them assess liability and your client’s credibility. As long as your client is truthful, what have you got to lose?
Lots. If the case does not settle, now you are stuck with a detailed statement of what happened to your client, and about the physical and other harms that resulted. These statements may well clash – at least somewhat -with his or her later testimony at deposition or at trial. If that happens, the insurance defense lawyer will try to make your client out to be a liar, or an exaggerator, or someone who has no memory of what really happened.
No one ever tells the same story twice with the same details. Your client is bound to tell the story slightly differently at deposition or trial. Do you really want defense attorney to be empowered to whip out that recorded statement to confront your client with the differences, like this: “You say this today, but two years ago you said that. Which time were you lying, then or now?” I don’t think so.
Instead, offer to give the adjuster YOUR summary of what happened, of what the issues are, and of what the injuries are. Your “statement” can’t be used in Court at all.
Not good enough for the adjuster? She still insists on a recorded statement from your client? Get ready for trial. Don’t give in. It’s simply not worth it.
One trick I use when an adjuster asks to take a recorded statement is to throw it back at her: “Sure, you can take my client’s recorded statement, as long as you let me take your insured’s recorded statement, too”. So far there have never been any takers. Adjusters do not believe that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. With them, it is often a one-way street. Don’t let them do that to you!
Caveat: Sometimes you are REQUIRED to let you client give a recorded statement. This happens when you are bringing a claim for uninsured or under-insured insurance benefits against your client’s own insurer. Some of those types of insurance policies require the insured – your client – to give a recorded statement. But read the insurance policy carefully. What exactly is required and when is it required? For example, if the policy says they can take a recorded statement of your client to determine liability, then you may not have to allow your client to answer questions about her medical treatment. And if the insurer has already taken the position that there is no liability, you can argue that no statement can be taken. Finally, if you have to let them take the statement, prepare your client thoroughly and sit through it with them.
Rule # 2: Don’t Allow the Adjuster to Calculate the Settlement As a Multiplier of the “specials”.
“Specials”, in personal injury legal parlance, is the economic loss to the injured plaintiff, which consists mostly of lost income and medial expenses. Those figures are easy to calculate. Pain and suffering is not. Many old-fashioned adjusters (in my experience, they are usually from down south or in the Midwest) feel that the value of pain and suffering is three times the value of the “specials”. So if the injured client had $20,000 in lost wages, and $10,000 in medical expenses, for a total of $30,000 “specials”, then the pain and suffering is worth $90,000.
Nonsense. Pain and suffering is calculated by, well, the pain and suffering. There is no other way to say it. If you want to figure out how much the pain and suffering is “worth” then look at jury verdicts in the area where you will try the case to see how much juries are giving for similar injuries with similar pain and suffering.
I have had cases where the client had almost no “specials”, but the pain and suffering settled for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Example: A young woman with a permanent, significant facial scar from a dog bite. She missed almost no time from work, and had only a few medical appointments so her wound could be stitched up and cared for. Specials? About $3,000. Pain and suffering? Hundreds of thousands. She was a pretty young lady who had to live the rest of her life with an awful facial scar. The scar would forever affect the way she saw herself, the way others would see her, her self-confidence, and her personal happiness. So no, we would not take $21,000 to settle that case!
READ PART II HERE.