When someone is injured because of the negligent actions or omissions of another party, it is very rare for the party that caused the injury to take full responsibility and write a check to cover all the damages. In most cases, the injured party does not deal with the responsible party at all. Instead, they must deal with the other party’s insurer, and more specifically, the insurance adjuster assigned to handle the case.
It may seem like an obvious statement, but insurance companies are in business to make a profit. As such, the interests of the adjuster are not aligned with your best interests. The adjuster represents the insurer, and their goal is to pay out as little as possible to settle the claim. Although an adjuster may be friendly and polite, it is important to understand that this is usually a tactic designed to put you at ease and give you the impression that they are going to help you. Always keep in mind that their end goal is to devalue the claim or deny the claim altogether.
Insurance adjusters are professionals who process claims for a living. They are trained negotiators, and they have a wide range of tactics and approaches they may use to accomplish their end goals. Here are some of the tactics used by insurance companies during an injury case:
Contacting the Injured Party Shortly after the Accident
One of the first things an insurance adjuster may do after an accident is call up the injured party to express sympathy, empathy, and regret for what happened. They will typically ask how you are doing and reassure you that you will be “taken care of”. The goal of the initial call is to establish rapport with the injured party and try to earn their trust. In the days following an accident, an injured party may not have had time to get organized, determine the full extent of their injuries, or get in touch with a lawyer. During this time, the adjuster hopes to convince them that an attorney won’t be needed and that they will receive a fair settlement. They may even say something like, “you are free to hire an attorney, but whether you do or not, it won’t have any bearing on the amount of compensation you receive.”
Asking the Injured Party for an Official Statement and Medical Release
Another reason that insurance adjusters contact injured parties shortly after an accident is to obtain a written or recorded statement, and to obtain a medical release. They may tell you that they need a statement from you and a medical release to process your claim. This sounds like a reasonable request, but it is full of potential pitfalls. The statement they obtain from you may be used against you later on to devalue or deny your claim. They might also say they need a medical release to verify your injuries, which also sounds reasonable. However, by giving them a release, you may be authorizing them to obtain access to your entire medical history. This could be used to find information on previous accidents and injuries and/or preexisting conditions that they can use to question the legitimacy of your current claim.
Making a Quick Settlement Offer
After someone is injured in an accident, they typically have medical bills piling up along with tight finances from missing time from work. Adjusters know that under these conditions, many injured parties are motivated to get a settlement check as soon as possible. An adjuster may seek to capitalize on this situation by giving you an offer to settle and close out the claim. In most cases, an early settlement offer will be for far less than a claim is really worth. Before accepting this type of offer, injured parties should speak with an experienced attorney who can thoroughly assess the case and properly value the claim.
Delaying the Claim
Each state has statutes of limitations for various types of legal actions. In Virginia, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is generally two years from the date of the injury or the date the injury becomes known. After the statute of limitations expires, an injured party forfeits their right to file a lawsuit for damages. Insurers may seek to use this to their advantage by employing delay tactics. For example, if you refuse their settlement offer and/or submit a counter offer, they may “go dark” and stop communicating with you for several months in hopes of running out the clock. If an insurance company has stopped communicating with you regarding an injury claim, it is important to get an attorney involved right away.
Denying Fault for the Injury
Insurers may use statements you have made and any other information they can find to claim that their client was not at-fault for your injury, or at the very least, that you were partially at-fault. In Virginia, this could cost you the right to obtain compensation because of the state’s “contributory negligence” legal doctrine. Under contributory negligence, if a plaintiff is found to have “contributed” in any way to their injury, they may be barred from recovering damages. This is another reason it is essential to have skilled legal counsel by your side as early in the process as possible to aggressively pursue full and fair compensation for your injuries.