When I was just a puppy lawyer, I worked for one of the largest, most influential insurance defense law firms in the Northwest. I later worked for one of the most popular insurance companies in the United States. In each of these positions, I was employed as an insurance defense attorney.
As an insurance defense attorney, I defended people who caused car crashes and were then sued by the car crash victim. I also represented several insurance companies when they suspected fraud. These opportunities provided insight into how, and why, insurance companies operate. I still use what I learned then to better represent my clients today.
Insurance Companies are Rigid and Unbending
I learned that insurance companies are bureaucratic. They have rules and, in most cases, these rules were not meant to be broken. These rules tell insurance adjusters, insurance supervisors, and insurance defense attorneys how much a case is worth and why.
Many companies go so far as to use computer software to calculate claim value and provide decision-makers with a case value range. With very few exceptions, once these values are calculated, there is not a lot one can do to change the company's evaluation.
Insurance Companies Don't Care
That sub-heading is stronger than I intend it. But, it is nonetheless true. The insurance company itself is a corporate entity incapable of emotion and feeling. If an insurance company could settle for twenty-five cents, in a wrongful death claim in which a husband lost his wife to a semi-tractor-trailer, it would. Without thinking—companies are incapable of thinking—twice. It's all about the bottom line. Always.
Insurance Adjusters, Claims Supervisors, and Insurance Defense Attorneys Do Care
I remember sitting in the deposition of a woman who lost her son in a car crash. The insurance defense attorney was asking her questions designed to minimize her loss—to make her out to be a bad mother; a mother who didn't care. While this woman was certainly not a model parent, it was clear that she loved her son. She wept several times during that deposition.
Afterward, after the damage was done and the tears wiped from the large conference room table, the insurance defense attorney apologized to the Plaintiff's attorney and the Plaintiff. She later told me it was one of the most difficult depositions she ever had to take.
I believe her. I believe she cared. Deeply.
But caring will never take away from the fact that insurance company employees/attorneys have a job to do. Most will do what they can to “win” in their job—it's how they support their families. It pays to be good at one's job even if it's hard sometimes.
Insurance Companies Have Deep Pockets
Insurance companies have a seemingly endless supply of money. This is, of course, not literally true, but insurance companies are not afraid to spend money to defend a case. And they can always outspend accident victims. Always.
Insurance Companies Can Tolerate Risk Better than Accident Victims
This is sort of a continuation, or perhaps a result of, an insurance company's resources. If a company has hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, worrying about whether a case results in a $500,000 or $1,000,000 verdict is not really going to scare anybody too much.
Certainly, the company would look at a “bad” result and try to learn from it. Contrast that learning experience from the financial ruin an accident victim faces if he or she turned down, say a $500,000 offer, only to get a much less favorable jury verdict. The consequences are mind-numbing.
Insurance Companies Move Slow
Perhaps as a result of all the headings above, it takes a while to effect change within an insurance company. Whether speaking at the individual claim level, or more big-picture company policy and culture, it doesn't matter. It takes a lot to move a mass that size.
What It Means for My Clients
These insights provide a behind-the-scenes peek at how to navigate the process of resolving a client's claim. Through harnessing my knowledge and understanding of insurance companies and wielding it against them, it's like playing a game with the other team's playbook.
Whether from the initial claims process, settlement negotiations, or all the way to the end of a jury verdict or appeal, I'm able to, at a minimum, understand what is happening and why. More importantly, I'm able to wield this information to maximize not only my clients' chances of a successful outcome but to increase the bottom line of what “successful outcome” really means.
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