If you are injured in traffic because someone else was driving negligently, under Florida law you are entitled to fair and full reimbursement for your medical treatment, days lost from work, and all losses arising from the accident. If you are seriously injured by a negligent driver in central Florida, it’s wise to discuss your case with an experienced Orlando personal injury attorney. However, if an injury in such an accident is genuinely trivial, sometimes it’s just more convenient to seek your compensation out of court, directly from the auto insurance company.
Insurance companies are in business to make profits, so the more they pay in claims, the lower the profits. While everyone in business has to make profits to stay in business, if you’ve been injured by negligence, the negligent party’s insurance company is legally obligated to compensate you completely for your medical care, lost wages, and any other damages you’ve suffered.
When a negligent driver causes a minor injury and you opt to negotiate personally for your insurance payment, you’ll first need to reach out to the negligent driver’s insurance company and complete the necessary claim forms. If you claim an amount that you believe is fair and sufficient, and if the insurance company does not challenge that figure, you probably won’t need an attorney’s assistance. Negotiations will probably take just a couple of phone discussions and possibly a single meeting with a claims adjuster.
HOW ARE NEGOTIATIONS WITH INSURANCE COMPANIES CONDUCTED?
Prior to contacting the other driver’s insurance company, you’ll need to decide what you believe is the fair value of your claim, and you’ll also need to set a minimum settlement amount – the lowest sum you’re willing to accept. Never disclose that lowest sum – that’s for you alone. Your first discussion with an adjuster is where you should emphasize the strengths of your claim, and in most cases, the insurance adjuster will discuss and point out any weaknesses in your claim.
An adjuster will usually launch claim settlement negotiations with an offer that is considerably short of the figure that you’re seeking. Typically, someone in your circumstances will respond with an amount that’s higher than what’s being offered but somewhat below your initial claim figure. While negotiating, never drop below that minimum acceptable amount that you set for yourself.
Each time you negotiate with an insurance adjuster, you need not repeat all of the facts and details regarding your accident and injury. Stick with just a couple of your strongest arguments. If the negligent driver, for example, could have killed or seriously injured someone, or if you’ve been unable to care properly for your children because of your injury, stress those kinds of points from time to time throughout the negotiations.
If the insurance company can’t reach your minimum figure for you after two or three discussions, you may need to retain an attorney’s help, or you may need the reconsider the entire matter in light of the insurance company’s position. Do not rush the negotiations, and don’t let yourself be rushed. At some point in the negotiations, the insurance adjuster may help you see things from his or her perspective, and you may need to reconsider and adjust the amount you’re seeking.
IS THE INITIAL OFFER UNACCEPTABLE?
The initial offer from the insurance company may be laughably short of your claim’s actual value, but that’s typical in all kinds of negotiations. A “lowball” figure lets the other side learn about you and what kind of negotiator you are. When they toss you a low first offer, ask for their precise reasons and set up the next negotiating session. At that point, you may want simply to think over the reasons they’ve offered you, do some research on your own, or consult an attorney.
However, if the insurance company’s initial offer to you is somewhere close to what you will accept, go ahead and offer a second claim amount that’s only slightly below your first. In most cases like this, when both sides negotiate in good faith, a settlement that you can live with will not take long to reach. When an agreement is achieved, get a date from the adjuster when you can expect payment.
Send the adjuster a confirmation letter immediately after the final negotiation and agreement. Include the settlement figure, list the injuries and other damages in your claim, and include the date when you were told that you can expect to receive payment. Orlando personal injury attorney Jeremy Hogan summarizes the process with five points:
- “Be organized.” Attorney Hogan says, “You need to know the facts of the accident, medical treatment, outstanding bills, better than the adjuster.”
- “Everything must be in writing. After a telephone conversation with the adjuster you must confirm what was said in writing.”
- “Be patient. If you respond to an offer too soon, the adjuster will sense you are anxious to settle and will lowball you.”
- “Be helpful. Yes, helpful. Part of your job is to provide the adjuster information that will allow him or her to pay you more money. The adjuster wants to get your case settled and off his or her desk. But the adjuster cannot pay just anything he or she wants. You have to get that bill to the adjuster so she can then give you more money.”
- Finally, attorney Hogan says, “Be professional. Being an injury adjuster is extremely difficult. Yelling and screaming and being rude will absolutely not help you.”
WHAT IF THE INSURANCE COMPANY SIMPLY REFUSES TO PAY?
Once an insurance company agrees to compensate you for an injury or injuries, payment should be prompt. If it’s not, consumers in the state of Florida are entitled by law to hold insurance companies legally responsible for unfair settlement practices. If an insurance company will not fulfill its legal responsibilities, an injured victim of negligence can file an insurance bad faith lawsuit with an attorney’s help.
In Florida, if a negligent driver’s insurance company will not compensate you after an injury, refuses to negotiate with you, or says your check is in the mail but it never arrives, at that point you’ll need to consult with a personal injury attorney. When an insurance company mishandles an injury claim, the legal term is “bad faith.” Bad faith insurance practices include but are not limited to:
- unexplained and unreasonable delays in payment
- ceaselessly “investigating” the accident as a delaying tactic
- paying claimants only a fraction of a claim’s real value
- providing flimsy or disingenuous excuses for denying a claim
Sometimes, simply hiring an attorney is sufficient to motivate an insurance company to negotiate in good faith or to send a payment that’s already been promised. When someone’s been injured and an insurance company rejects the victim’s injury claim, some victims and their families may suffer financial hardship at least temporarily. And of course, when you’ve been seriously or catastrophically injured – or disabled – by a negligent driver, you should retain legal counsel immediately and not even try to negotiate on your own with the insurance company. In those circumstances, too much is at stake – like your health, your job, your family, and your future.
After a truly serious injury, don’t even talk with an insurance adjuster, and don’t sign any forms or documents an insurance company may provide before you speak to a personal injury lawyer. Negotiate on your own only if an injury is genuinely trivial and you’re going to heal swiftly. After most accidents with injuries, it’s best to put the case in the hands of a good personal injury attorney, an experienced negotiator who will aggressively fight for the compensation and justice that injury victims need and deserve.