Sometimes all it takes to settle a car accident claim is for you to send an effective demand letter to an insurance adjuster. The adjuster will either agree to your demand or make a reasonable offer to settle your claim that's in the ballpark of your request. After a few phone calls, you'll agree on a settlement amount and move on with your life.
Other claims take a bit more work. The adjuster might have questions about who was at fault for the accident (liability) or your injuries. Maybe you didn't submit the right documents to support your claim, like police reports or medical records. Or perhaps you're dealing with an overwhelmed or difficult adjuster.
In this article, you'll learn how to handle bumps on the road toward a reasonable settlement, including what to do when:
Insurance adjusters want to settle car accident claims. Their job performance is measured not only by how little money they spend on settlements, but also by how fast they settle claims.
Insurance adjusters typically handle between 50 and 100 new claims per month. Once adjusters understand how much a claim is worth, they are motivated to "clear" (close) the claim file as quickly as possible just to manage their caseloads.
Adjusters' authority to settle a claim on their own is usually restricted to a certain dollar amount based on their experience. If they want to offer higher than that amount, they have to get approval from a supervisor or insurance company lawyer.
So, if adjusters are generally motivated to settle claims, let's look at a few common reasons why an adjuster might not respond to your demand letter and what you can do about it.
Insurance companies are very conservative and careful. They don't want to make decisions that will cost them money until they have all the facts. That's why some adjusters refuse to make a car accident settlement offer until they have every single document related to your claim. If they are missing even one page of a doctor's notes, they'll probably not be ready to talk about settlement.
It's your job to provide the insurance adjuster with the necessary documents—it's not their job to go hunt records down. So, for example, make sure the adjuster has all medical records concerning your car accident injuries, including office notes, physical therapy records, prescriptions, and every piece of paper generated by the hospital if you were admitted.
You'll also need to make sure the adjuster has every bill for your medical treatment. Simply sending them a health insurance claim form might not be good enough. The adjuster will likely want a copy of an itemized bill from your health care provider.
Depending on what damages you are seeking, the adjuster might need proof of your lost earnings. This can range from a couple of pay stubs or a letter from your employer, to copies of your income tax returns, depending on the complexity of your lost earnings claim.
If an adjuster doesn't respond to your demand, ask for an explanation. If it's because documents are still missing from your file, get them to the adjuster, and the ball will likely start rolling again.
Your demand letter might be met by radio silence if the adjuster thinks your initial settlement demand is far too high. Let's look at an example of a negotiation to see why adjusters typically won't respond to or counter unreasonable demands.
Let's say you go to buy a car and you find one with a price tag of $19,995. If you offer $18,000, the dealer will probably think you're serious and respond with a counteroffer. But if you offer $8,000, the dealer probably won't bother pursuing the sale any further and will turn to other customers. That's how it is with car accident claim negotiations. If your initial demand is unreasonable, you are wasting the adjuster's time, and you won't get a response until your demand is more reasonable.
If the adjuster thinks your demand is too high, you have a choice. You can lower your demand or hire a lawyer. In this situation, it's usually a good idea to at least discuss your situation with an experienced car accident lawyer who can give you a reality check by taking a professional, objective look at the value of your claim.
If the adjuster makes an unreasonably low offer, don't immediately lower your demand. Instead, ask the adjuster to give you reasons for the lowball offer and then refute the reasons in writing.
You might convince the adjuster that the offer is too low, or be swayed to make a counteroffer in an effort to meet somewhere in the middle.
Learn more about what to do when the insurance company's car accident settlement offer is too low.
Most adjusters want to settle claims as quickly and easily as possible. But some cases—and some adjusters—require more effort. Here are a few tips on what to do when negotiations stall.
Be persistent. Don't let the adjuster give you the runaround. Every week or so call or write the adjuster to ask when you can expect a fair and reasonable offer. If the adjuster asks for more time to review your file, ask for a specific date by which the adjuster will contact you with a response to your demand or counteroffer.
Speak With the Adjuster's Supervisor. If you can't reach an agreement with the adjuster assigned to your case, ask to speak to the adjuster's immediate supervisor or the claims manager. The adjuster might not have the authority to agree to your demand or might be motivated by your request to make a reasonable offer.
Hint at Bad Faith. Insurers have a duty to provide insurance protection and negotiate and settle claims in good faith. If you believe the adjuster is acting in bad faith, use that term in a conversation. If that isn't enough to bring the adjuster to the table, write a letter claiming bad faith. A written accusation of bad faith often gets a quick response and you might be able to sue the insurer for bad faith down the road.
Talk to a Lawyer. It's not always clear who is being unreasonable in a settlement negotiation. A lawyer can give you an informed opinion about the value of your claim and might be able to persuade the adjuster to agree to your demand. If negotiations remain bogged down, the threat of a civil lawsuit often gets settlement talks moving again.
Contact the State Department of Insurance. Each state has an insurance department. And each department has a consumer complaint division. A complaint to the state department of insurance might be appropriate if an adjuster has made no offer at all, provided false or misleading information, or engaged in unfair settlement tactics.
Get more tips on settling a car accident claim.
In some situations, you might need to hire a lawyer if the insurance company refuses to make a fair settlement offer. A car accident lawyer can help you:
Learn more about how a car accident attorney can help you.
For a complete guide to the personal injury claim process, including what to do when the insurance company doesn't seem to be playing fair, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).
Despite your best efforts to handle your car accident insurance claim yourself, you might need some help at some point in the process. If you can't get an adjuster to call you back or make a reasonable offer, talk to a car accident lawyer.
Learn more about hiring a car accident lawyer. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.