When you file a claim for personal injury against the responsible party's insurance carrier, you will usually be assigned an "adjuster" to help you with your claim. If your claim is for property damage, you will be assigned a "property damage" adjuster. If your claim is for injury, you will be assigned a "bodily injury" adjuster. In some cases, the assigned adjuster will handle both the property damage claim and the bodily injury claim.
Keep in mind that while the adjuster is "helping" you with your claim, their unspoken job is to save money for the insurance company. After all, you are not employing the adjuster. They are employed by the insurance company and that's really where their allegiance is. While many adjusters will certainly do their best to help you, it will be within their company's guidelines and parameters. If push comes to shove, don't bet on the adjuster siding with you. Once again, their allegiance and loyalty belongs to their employer...not you.
If you are dealing directly with any insurance company, most of the time the claims adjuster will try to get you to settle for a very small amount. Usually, it's far less than what you deserve. Oftentimes, these "lowball" offers are made shortly after your accident because they know you are probably upset, distraught, and generally confused. Sometimes you're simply not in a position to make a reasonable decision. They figure you will take whatever they offer you because you might be afraid you won't get anything at all. Also, insurance companies know claims can take a long time, sometimes years to bring a lawsuit against their client and win a judgment in court. They are betting you are more apt to take the money presented to at the beginning rather than wait years for something better. Whatever happens, do not make a decision on impulse. In most cases, there is no "emergency" and no reason to rush to settlement. Make sure you discuss your matter with an experience lawyer first.
Some adjusters will employ specific tactics to their advantage. Some will even try to convince you to call another insurance company - sending you on a wilde goose chase. Sometimes they won't return your calls or your emails. In some cases, they will argue that you "waited too long" to file a claim. If you are bringing a claim against your own company, there might indeed be time limits, but generally speaking, you don't have to bring a claim immediately. Keep in mind there is a difference between making a claim and filing a lawsuit. You must be mindful of the "statute of limitations." Technically you currently have two years in California to file a lawsuit for personal injury against the responsible party from the date the accident occurs, unless your claim involves a municipality or other public entity in which case other time limts may apply. Of course, this is the current law and may change.
The insurance adjuster may also tell you they can only pay for your "out-of-pocket" expenses. That is not true. Your out-of-pocket expenses are only part of your overall claim. If your bills were paid by a health insurance company, they may be entitled to reimbursement, but that is another issue. The insurance adjuster will also try to get copies of all your past medical records. To some extent, they are seeking to learn more about your injury. However, in most cases, they are simplly looking through your medical history for things to use against you. For example, if you injured your back in the car accident, they will find any mention of previous back pain from years ago and may make an issue of it. They will make mountains out of mole hills.
Talking with an experienced attorney will help you make an informed decision. Being represented by an attorney is not always recommended. However, it's always good to learn about your options.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,