Negotiation is an art that dates back to prehistoric times. Insurance adjusters are professional negotiators. To combat this, it is important that you hire a personal injury attorney who is a skilled negotiator.
Suppose you find yourself dealing with a personal injury claim, such as a car accident or pedestrian accident claim. In that case, it’s likely that you will be demanding payment from an insurance company.
It is essential that you understand the process of negotiation as it can drastically impact your own personal injury claim.
The Demand Package
During a preliminary investigation, your lawyer will probably interview you, photograph the scene of the accident, request your medical records and a copy of the police report, and interview witnesses, among other activities. After completing the preliminary investigation, your attorney can compile the demand package.
A demand package includes a demand letter and supporting documentation. You send it to the party responsible for paying your claim—typically an insurance company. Your demand letter should describe the basic facts of the accident or incident, state your claim, and attempt to justify it.
An insurance company will respond to your demand letter with a ‘reservation of rights letter’ in which they assert their right to reject your claim if the evidence doesn’t support it. Don’t worry, this is routine. After that, they might reject your claim outright or issue a ‘lowball’ offer for much less than the true value of your claim. It will be up to your lawyer to increase the amount of the insurance company’s offer.
Negotiating for Damages
“Damages” are funds you receive due to your personal injury claim. If negotiations are successful, you should receive a fair settlement offer for your damages.
Economic damages are fairly clear-cut and easy to negotiate. These damages include medical bills and lost earnings. Anything that is easily reduced to a dollar value probably constitutes economic damages. The primary uncertainty in determining the amount of economic damages is whether a given expense was ‘reasonable and necessary.”
Noneconomic damages represent intangible harm, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. How do you reduce suffering, for example, to a dollar amount? It takes negotiating skills, among other qualities. The amount of your non-economic damages will likely be more subject to negotiation than the amount of your economic damages.
Exemplary damages are intended not to compensate you but to punish the defendant for particularly bad behavior. Courts only occasionally award punitive damages, even when the victim wins the lawsuit. Defendants and insurance companies rarely pay punitive damages.
Filing a Complaint and Engaging in Discovery
It might be the case that your lawyer’s preliminary investigation failed to yield enough evidence to prove your claim. This state of affairs is not at all uncommon. Your lawyer can then file a complaint to initiate a lawsuit. Your attorney can then withdraw the lawsuit as soon as the opposing party agrees to a settlement.
Filing a lawsuit gives both parties access to the pretrial discovery process. Pretrial discovery is a powerful, court-supervised process that allows each side to gather evidence that is in the possession of the other party. A court can sanction any party who refuses to cooperate. Pretrial discovery often yields enough evidence to resolve a personal injury claim one way or the other.
The parties can also use a mediator as a third party trained in dispute resolution. During mediation, the mediator can help the parties reach a mutually acceptable settlement.
Settlement Agreement Negotiations
Once you have agreed on the general terms of a settlement, it will be time to draft a settlement agreement. During this phase, the two attorneys might haggle over details like the specific wording of the settlement agreement.
In a settlement agreement, you agree to forever abandon your claim in exchange for a certain amount of compensation. A settlement agreement is a binding contract. You can enforce it in court just like you can enforce other agreements.
Negotiating Tricks Insurance Companies Like to Play
Insurance companies are businesses that make money accepting premiums and lose money paying claims. Insurance adjusters have lots of tricks up their sleeves to justify reducing the value of your claim or rejecting it altogether.
Tactics that insurance companies use include the following:
- Quick settlement offers. The hope is that you will accept a low settlement offer just to get money fast.
- Asking for a recorded statement. Say no! They will ask you trick questions and use your answers against you later.
- A series of unnecessary delays. They’re trying to wear you down and, if possible, lull you into missing the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit.
- Claiming that your injury was pre-existing. Adjusters can claim that the accident did not cause your injury. This is especially likely if you delay seeking medical treatment.
- Snooping on your social media accounts. An insurance company can use your Facebook posts as evidence in court.
These are five of literally hundreds of tricks an insurance company or the defendant’s lawyer might use against you. If the insurance company crosses a certain ethical line, you can file a “bad faith insurance” claim against them and demand additional damages.
Experienced Orlando Personal Injury Lawyers are Professional Negotiators
If you retain the right personal injury lawyer, they can handle negotiations for you from start to finish. Only you, however, have the authority to accept a settlement offer. It is likely that a skilled personal injury lawyer can dramatically raise the value of your claim through the use of negotiation skills.