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First steps before making a claim

Making a claim against the driver at fault

You have been in a traffic accident. Your vehicle was damaged. Hopefully, you were not seriously injured. Now you are looking at a claim against the driver at fault, so you send a demand letter with all the details of the loss and damage suffered to the other driver’s insurance company. This is the start of a sometimes stressful process of trying to negotiate a settlement with a claims adjuster. This person may be employed directly by the insurer or may be a freelance negotiator brought in to deal with your claim. Either way, this is your main point of contact during the first part of the process.

If you are not confident to do this yourself, you will need to find an attorney to do it for you. The problem is knowing how much to claim. Only experienced attorneys know the guideline figures laid down by your state’s courts for personal injuries and can put a general number on the value of your claim for pain and suffering. However, if there are no more than minor injuries and almost all the expenses and losses can be quantified, you can deal with this yourself and avoid giving up a share of the claim to an attorney. Just put together a package of the medical bills, receipts for all the other expenses, details of lost pay, and so on. If you want to be slightly more passive, send off comprehensive information and wait for the claims adjuster to make an offer.

Everyone who works as a claims adjuster is given a settlement range by the insurer. Human nature being what it is, adjusters always start off at the lowest possible number. As you negotiate, the adjuster will slowly move up but, as and when the maximum number is reached, there will be no more offers. If you feel this “final” offer is still too low, you now need to move up through the chain of command in the insurance company. The adjuster does not have the authority to increase the offer. You have to find the person who can improve the offer. If you have kept back some of the evidence, now is the time to bring it out in support of your claim. Otherwise it’s down to your powers of persuasion. Should this fail to produce results, you have reached the big decisions. This is when the gloves come off and the real fight begins. You can go find an attorney to deal with it for you or you can take on the auto insurance company yourself. There are two options for self-help. The first is to file a complaint with your state’s Department of Insurance. If the Department finds the insurer at fault in not offering more, the majority of states have the power to order the insurer to increase the settlement offer. The fact of a valid complaint is also logged against the insurer. Some states name and shame the auto insurance companies. Alternatively, many policies contain terms allowing mediation or arbitration. You can pursue the company yourself. If the mediator or arbitrator agrees with you, the settlement increases. Should all fail, an attorney can sue if his or her professional opinion supports pursuing the claim.