Insurance company adjusters evaluate risk the way the rest of us evaluate which television show we're going to watch tonight. They do it so often and on such a large scale that they often times do it without thinking about it—they take shortcuts and use mechanisms designed to mathematically and objectively compute what would otherwise be an emotional and subjective problem. The key to a successful settlement is avoiding these insurance company shortcuts and getting them to evaluate the unique aspects of your cases and to feel the harms and losses their insured caused. In this blog post, I'll discuss how we (and you) can do that when presenting a claim. In doing so, I will talk about a “collision” as most of our clients were injured in car wrecks, but the same principles would apply regardless of how the person came to be injured.
Insurance companies often use a program called Colossus or other similar computer programs to evaluate cases. These programs compute raw data. For example the adjuster might enter in the cost of the property damage caused by a collision, the cost of the medical bills, the amount of any wage loss, and codes for the various injuries suffered by the injured party. The computer program then computes the value of the case. It's a very sterile and black and white process—leaving little room for compassion, emotion, or feeling.
So what can be done to bring compassion, emotion, and feeling into an insurance company's evaluation of a claim when the sole focus is on the corporate bottom line? Story-telling. Good stories evoke compassion, emotion, and feeling. Good stories humanize people make it impossible for a claims adjuster to look at a claim only in terms of dollars and cents. There is a difference between “my client suffered a whiplash injury to his neck as a result of the collision” and “ever since the collision, when my client tries to hold his 8 month old baby in his arms he has to put her down because the pain he has in his back is too much for him to bear.”
Sometimes the story starts long before the collision—maybe when our client graduated from college or got married. Sometimes the story starts with the collision—when our client became unable to do the same things he or she was able to before the collision or when our client's lives were forever changed. Sometimes the story of our client's injury is much more impactful if told from the perspective of the defendant—either the defendant's conduct that led up to the collision or the defendant's perception of our client's injury after the collision.
As lawyers in a courtroom our job is to help our client tell a story—the client's story. Our job is to present what happened to our client in a way that the jury gets it; in a way that is powerful and impactful. Presenting a claim to an insurance company adjuster is no different. We want the insurance company adjuster to feel our client's injuries, not physically of course, but to be able to empathize with our client's injuries.
This process is much more an art than a science and no situation is exactly like the next. We've spent our careers learning how to do this and oftentimes it's the most rewarding part of our jobs. Putting one's self in the shoes of another and walking a mile in those shoes so that you can know what it's like is a powerful experience in and of itself. But, walking far enough in those shoes to be able to then invite others along for the journey so that they too can understand what it's like is a state of unmatched compassion and empathy.