Our clients and potential clients who reach out to our firm consistently tell us that they have been threatened by an adjuster working for the insurance company of the person or company who caused a car crash, slip and fall, or other injury to them. Whether it is the adjuster telling them they will “close their case” prematurely or they won't give them “a penny more than their medical bills” no matter what they do, this type of threat coming from the adverse insurance company's representative should be taken with a grain of salt under most circumstances.
In our experience, it seems like most adjusters who initially handle files for the adverse insurance companies tend to try and secure a settlement from an injured person very quickly after the incident occurs. This is usually because, if the representative for the adverse insurance company can get an injured person to accept a small sum quickly, it will benefit the insurance company long term. Where settlement does happen quickly after the incident, the injured person hasn't had a full opportunity to explore with their medical providers the true cause of their pain and symptoms and they don't fully understand the extent to which the pain and symptoms and those injuries will impact their everyday life nor for how long. So, if an insurance company can offer an injured person less money more quickly, they don't have to fully account for all of the damages an injured person suffers in a crash or other incident.
Since insurance companies can benefit from quick settlement, we have heard about unfortunate practices where threats are made to injured persons presumably in an effort to secure a settlement for less money more quickly. Often times, people who contact us ask about the legitimacy of those threats and what they should do in the wake of those threats. It is difficult to speak to all threats, not knowing what the particular threat a person reading this might have received, but we will do our best just to speak generally on the topic. It is important to note that this is not legal advice. If you seek legal advice, please give our office a call.
It is our opinion that threats along the lines outlined above are made for the reasons outlined above, and it is further our opinion that typically those threats are baseless.
For example, if an adverse insurance company “closes your case” this does not affect your ability to pursue your claims under the state law. In Washington State typically, injured persons have three years in which to file and serve a lawsuit to pursue their claims for bodily injury. To the extent the claims are against a government entity, the time period may be shorter. If you are worried about the time governing your potential claims, you should contact our office and speak with an attorney. In Oregon, the time period applicable within which to properly file and serve a lawsuit is two years, but there are certain circumstances where notice must be provided on shorter timeframes. Claims for minors and wrongful death claims have longer potential statutes of limitations. Again, though, with something as critical as timing, it is important to speak to an attorney about your particular circumstances. If a claim is not brought within the statute of limitations, then it is barred forever.
All of that is to say, though, that an insurance adjuster cannot dictate whether or not you are able to pursue your bodily injury claims when push comes to shove. An insurance adjuster can, however, deny liability or refuse payment on your claims—but, if they do, you can hire an attorney who will aim to set them straight as to your rights and the proper procedure under the applicable state law or file a lawsuit on your behalf and move the case into litigation.
In terms of a potential threat from an adverse insurance adjuster that they might not pay “a penny more than the medical bills,” again, this does not comport with state law – neither Washington nor Oregon. For example, in Washington, an injured person has the sole right to collect the full extent of the damages that they suffer as a result of a car crash or other injury and those potential damages are fairly broad and far reaching. Mahler v. Szucs, 135 Wn.2d 398, 957 P.2d 632 (1998). Some examples of the myriad damages the injured person would potentially be entitled to collect in the wake of a car crash are as follows:
- Medical and health related bills and expenses;
- Pharmaceutical and over-the-counter medication expenses and/or prosthetic device expenses;
- Wage loss and/or impaired earning capacity;
- Pain and suffering;
- Mental anguish and emotional distress;
- Temporary and/or permanent total and/or partial disability and/or disfigurement;
- Loss of enjoyment and/or loss, impairment, or diminishment of the joys and amenities of life;
- Loss of society and companionship;
- Mileage and other travel related expenses incurred in seeking health care for the injuries suffered;
- Interest on health care expenses or obligations and or other economic damages incurred;
For these reasons discussed above, we suggest that threats like those outlined above have no merit, with the caveats discussed above.
If an adverse insurance adjuster is treating you in a manner that you don't believe is fair or is less than pleasant or professional, in your opinion, feel free to give the attorneys at our office a call and we can talk with you about your rights and offer you things to consider under the particular circumstances you are facing. The insurance industry is a highly regulated industry, particularly in the state of Washington where we have the Insurance Fair Conduct Act. There may be bases on which our attorneys can help you change the tone with the insurance company and its representatives.
Another consideration is that the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner has a web site that is a great resource and on which you can file a complaint against any insurance company you are having issues with. Please note that everything submitted on that site becomes public record and this is not necessarily advisable to do in every situation. Additionally, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner is not an enforcement mechanism, but rather an investigative tool which will check to make sure the insurance company is acting within the bounds of the law. If you want to talk to the attorneys in our office about whether or not your circumstances warrant a complaint to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, please give us a call and we'd be happy to chat about that with you.