Why Talking To An Insurance Adjuster Is The Worst Possible Thing After An Accidental Death
For some reason, most people who call me are already convinced that they shouldn’t talk to insurance adjusters (or their corporate equivalents — “risk managers” for big companies). (Maybe because they’ve read my blog posts?)
So, the question is, are they right? Should you talk to an insurance adjuster after losing a loved one due to accidental or intentional death? I mean, after all, they are the ones who will ultimately write a check.
No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That is the worst possible thing you could do.
Yes, insurance adjusters ultimately write the checks. But their NUMBER ONE goal in life is to write the SMALLEST POSSIBLE CHECKS. If you are unlucky enough to call them before calling me, they will probably be very nice as they walk you through all of their “policies” and “deadlines” for getting them “required” information.
(Pssst! Before you finish this article, why don’t you give me a call, or send me a quick text, asking an actual lawyer about your wrongful death case? I never charge you one single cent until I recover money for you, and I will return your call or text as soon as I possibly can. (407) 383-7290.)
How Should You Respond To Insurance Company “Deadlines”?
The only “deadline” that actually matters in any wrongful death lawsuit is the two year statute of limitations. The case will have a higher value if we start much earlier (because old evidence gets stale and/or disappears), but insurance company letters or phone calls asking you to respond within a short time frame are 1000% bogus, EXCEPT you sometimes have a contractual duty to cooperate with the decedent’s OWN INSURANCE COMPANY. Still, you should call me first. You have no duty to ever respond to the insurance company for the defendant who caused the death of your loved one.
What If You Have Already Talked To An Insurance Adjuster?
No worries. This happens all of the time. I’d say my clients are about 50/50, in terms of who has already talked to an adjuster. Just stop taking their calls, and call me instead. Also, don’t send them an email! They should get absolutely NO communication from you whatsoever. None at all.
(Side Note: you also shouldn’t post anything publicly or privately on social media, like Facebook or Twitter. They can subpoena any private records, and often DO check victim public accounts while investigating cases.)
(EXCEPT — BIG EXCEPTION — you are contractually bound to talk to your own insurance company, or the insurance company of the victim who died — but, keep reading to learn why you should still call me first if you have any uninsured motorist coverage.)
Why Can’t You Trust An Insurance Adjuster After An Accidental Or Intentional Death?
Here’s the deal. Starting way back in the mid 1990’s, insurance companies got a bad make-over. Well, I mean, if you just happened to own an insurance company, then they got a very good make-over. But, for families who have just lost a loved one during an insured accident, the changes were nothing but bad. Allstate was the first to hire NY based “business consultants,” who turned the entire industry upside down. They became very focused on paying less for claims, on a massive scale, which they had shrewdly determined was the fastest and best way to improve corporate profits. They also started fighting victim lawyers with a very well-documented “delay, deny, defend” corporate strategy that was very effective because claimants grew tired of waiting and fighting. What started at Allstate eventually spread to ALL major insurance companies as a corporate framework.
(This whole strategy might have worked perfectly for the insurance companies, and gone completely undetected. Unfortunately for them, a very determined group of early lawyers learned what they were doing through depositions of insurance company representatives, and ultimately revealed the whole ugly truth in court documents, later well-summarized in books like this one.)
Although the truth is clear (insurance companies have a corporate strategy of paying less money than they should), the only real legal solution is to FIGHT THEM tooth and nail. That’s where we enter the picture. In the meantime, please (pretty please) don’t help them by giving away evidence that we need to protect and shield.
Why Something Called Colossus Should Scare You, Anytime An Insurance Adjuster Calls
In addition to extensive adjuster and management training programs, insurance companies developed a computer program called “Colossus.” Colussus had one goal in mind: to pay ALL claimants less money, far less money, on the theory that most would take less. So individual adjusters lost any power to be, well, human. They now have to input all claim information into Colossus. Then the program seeks information with the goal of reducing the value of a claim (by telling adjusters exactly what targeted questions to ask, what documents and records to seek, etc.), and also gives ranges of settlement values, which adjusters may not exceed without supervisor approval (which is never given). Even wrongful death lawyers have to contend with Colossus (although we get far better results than our clients without lawsuits; no doubt having a lawyer is part of the Colossus calculation). But that’s why we often have to file lawsuits.
If you aren’t convinced, you should be.
You Can Very Often Raise Or Lower Your Wrongful Death Case Value
You might be surprised to learn this. But, contrary to what most people believe about accident and death cases, the value of a case is FAR from “set” immediately after an accident. Clients can do things to raise or lower the case value, on a huge variable scale.
What Is The Main Variable Affecting Wrongful Death Case Values? And How Can Adjusters Lower The Value?
In accidental and intentional death cases, the biggest variable in case value is usually the relationship between the decedent (person who died) and the claimant (person pursuing the wrongful death case). So, naturally, the insurance adjuster will seek information trying to undermine that relationship, in the form of evidence that is admissible in court.
Another important thing to know is that insurance adjusters CAN testify against you. Basically, just like if you were ever unfortunate enough to be arrested (which, hopefully, you never will be), and shouldn’t say anything to police officers, what you say to adjusters “can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
What Adjusters Will Not Do For You, But You Need Done
In addition to paying you the least amount of money on their own policy, adjusters have no interest in helping you discover any other potential insurance policies that might cover your accident. Indeed, helping you find OTHER POLICIES simply is not their job, regardless of Colossus.
Let me give you an example from a recent auto accident case that we settled for the policy limits of one million dollars (and we are still pursuing a case against the auto manufacturer for more money). The person driving the car had only $20,000 in bodily injury insurance coverage. He was the obvious “defendant” in the case. IF the adjuster for the defendant driver had called our client to settle for the policy limits of 20K, then they would have required, and obtained, a release of all claims. The problem would have been that the defendant was driving FOR an employer, who happened to have one million dollars in coverage. That million dollar claim very well might have disappeared, if our client had first called the insurance adjuster.
Remember: insurance adjusters aren’t Orlando wrongful death lawyers, which means THEY ARE NOT YOUR ADVOCATE. So they have no duty or interest in making sure that ALL potential avenues of financial recovery have been considered.
(Side story: our client actually called us after another very well-known local law firm had advised them to accept the 20K; so, consider yourself warned, not all lawyers are as careful about uncovering every stone when it comes to insurance coverage.)
The possibility of additional insurance coverage doesn’t just apply to employer policies. Other people might be liable anytime there is an accident. For example, vehicle owners (in addition to vehicle drivers) might be liable, even if they weren’t driving. And the owner or driver (or both) might have an umbrella policy, which is insurance coverage above and beyond normal vehicle insurance. Or YOU might have uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage, which might be “stacked” (added together with other household policies) or not. But you will never know all available insurance coverage unless we investigate your case.
(Another side story: your own insurance company absolutely becomes your adversary if you have UM coverage. At the same time, you have a duty to cooperate with them, often within 15-30 days (this could vary by policy, so could even be 10 days). The same rules apply no matter what the situation: you need a lawyer, and fast.)
Additionally, insurance companies have NO obligation or desire, just as another example, to investigate whether the defendant driver, in the case of an auto accident, had assets above and beyond the insurance coverage. You can’t get that information without having a careful lawyer investigate that very question (and please don’t assume that all lawyers will do this; many will not).
What If The Bad Guy Driver Had Plenty Of Insurance Coverage?
If the defendant driver happens to have a higher insurance policy (such as often exists with commercial vehicles, or semi-trucks), then insurance adjusters will start asking very personal questions faster than you can believe. In wrongful death cases, these usually relate to the relationship you had with the person who died. How close were you? How are you feeling after their death? When was the last time you talked to them? How often did you talk to them? What kinds of things did you do together, and how frequently? If they lived in another state, did you write, call, or visit? If so, how frequently? Do you have any of your letters, or their letters to you? Did you send birthday cards? Did you go home when they were sick? Did you help them when they needed help? Did you pay any of their bills? Did they pay any of yours? If so, how much money did they give you? And how often? Are you able to pay those bills without their help? Had you had any arguments before they died? What other family members are there? Who was closer to the victim?
I absolutely cringe at the thought of my someday clients answering those very targeted and purposeful questions.
Yet, to the uninitiated, those might seem like totally innocent or even concerned questions. Hopefully you’re starting to trust my advice. They aren’t. They are designed with ONE purpose, which is to get information to prove that you weren’t that close to the victim, so your case should be worth less.
Last but not least: please don’t trust that you can avoid the insurance company minefields with enough Google searching. There is not enough time in the day for me to describe all of the ways that communicating with an adjuster, in any format, could hurt your case value.
Don’t fall for the countless insurance company traps! Please, trust me. You need me. I never charge you one penny until I recover money for you. Call or text my office anytime for an immediate consultation regarding your possible wrongful death lawsuit. (407) 383-7290.
If you contact my office, please be aware that we will ask some very brief preliminary questions to make sure we might be able to help you. (For example, in wrongful death cases based on medical malpractice, we can’t help unless you are a spouse or a child under 25, or were totally 100% dependent on a parent or child who died (both financially and literally — like you are disabled), so we ask those questions first.) But IF we might be able to help, then I personally will call you back ASAP!!