When you have been involved in an automobile accident that caused damage to your vehicle and injury to yourself, you will need to file an insurance claim. Once the claim is filed, you will then need to negotiate with the insurance company to ensure you receive adequate compensation for your losses. Provided you have proof and are comfortable negotiating this does not have to be a complicated process. You will work closely with the claims adjuster to agree on how much compensation should be paid to you.
It is not unusual for an insurance company to offer a lower settlement amount that will cover your losses. You have the right to decline their offer and follow up with a counteroffer in writing, substantiated with proof of your claim amount. The claims adjuster will then counter your counter-offer with one of their own which will usually be closer to the amount you are seeking. This process of offer and counter-offer (negotiation) can take some time, so you will need to be patient. It is important not to allow the delays to cause you undue stress so that you accept a lesser figure just to have the process over and done with. Stay the course to get the compensation you deserve.
Disputing a Settlement
Being armed with as much information to substantiate your claim as possible will put you in a good position to dispute the insurance company’s settlement offer. To do this, there are some things you need to be aware of. You may need to do some research but doing so will put you in a position of strength to dispute the settlement offer.
Read your policy thoroughly and be familiar with what it covers and what it doesn’t cover. If you find the document to be challenging to understand consult an insurance agent who is not involved in your case to have them explain your coverage.
Calculate the total costs of your loss. Add up all medical expenses, loss of income, repair costs to your vehicle if salvageable, plus any other expenses you have incurred as a result of the accident. Keep receipts for everything to back up your claim.
Calculate how much you are willing to settle for. After adding up, all your expenses decide the highest and lowest amounts you will settle at. Be prepared to negotiate if the insurance company’s settlement offer doesn’t fall within your range of acceptable amounts.
Know at what point in the process you will bring in an attorney. Insurance attorneys deal with insurance companies every day and are familiar with the process. They also can ‘speak their language’ and can often negotiate a suitable settlement quickly and cleanly. Insurance claims adjusters are less likely to try to push for a lower settlement figure when an attorney is involved.
How to Negotiate
Even if negotiation has reached an impasse there are often ways to ensure the process continues to move towards a settlement:
Speak with the adjuster’s superior. They have to receive authorization to settle your claim from someone higher up, and by talking to that person, you may be able to convince them that your claim amount is justified.
Request arbitration or mediation (dispute resolution).
Bring in an attorney to take over the negotiations on your behalf.
File a complaint with the Department of Insurance in your state. This is often done as a last resort when all other actions have not managed to resolve the dispute. An attorney can advise you as to whether the insurance is acting in bad faith, and whether the Department of Insurance should investigate.
If your attorney is unable to negotiate a fair accident settlement and feels the insurance company is not offering fair and reasonable compensation, he or she may suggest filing a lawsuit against either the insurance company or the driver that caused the accident. This option should not cause you undue concern. Just the mere mention of a lawsuit will often spur an insurance company into offering a higher amount but cannot be guaranteed. Larger insurance companies have a legal team at their disposal and will use it if necessary.
Time to Settlement
There is no way to know from the outset how long your case will take to settle. It could be as early as within a couple of weeks to as long as years if you have to go to court. You need to be aware that there are deadlines in which you can file a lawsuit and ensure that if that is the course of action you deem necessary that filing is done before that deadline arrives.
It is not an uncommon tactic on the part of the insurance company to drag out the process in the hopes that you either capitulate and accept their low offer, or that you will be so tired of negotiating and disputing their offers/counter-offers that you will not want to file a lawsuit and the deadline to do so will pass. While you cannot force the insurance company to settle there are things you can do to expedite the process:
Stay on top of your case. Keep in constant contact with your claims adjuster. This will let them know that you are still actively seeking a settlement and may help your case stay close to the top of their pile of pending cases.
Request better service. Your claims adjuster may be neglecting their duties when it comes to your case, or your claim is taking longer to process than you feel it should make you feel this is happening you can demand the claims adjuster look into speeding the process up.
Hire an attorney. Your attorney may resort to threatening the insurance company with legal action if your claim is not dealt with promptly. He or she will also be able to advise you when it is time to stop trying to negotiate and move to file a lawsuit.
Negotiation of an auto accident settlement can be stressful, drawn out, and frustrating. Insurance companies often make things more challenging to have you settle for a lesser amount than you are entitled to. You need to be prepared to be both patients and yet ready to go to court if circumstances dictate it necessary.
If you feel you are unable to negotiate or wish to avoid having to deal with the insurance claims adjuster, you can hire an insurance attorney to negotiate on your behalf. Often, the value of hiring a professional familiar with insurance law far outweighs their cost, and often an initial consultation can be had at no cost.