After any accident that results in an injury, whether that injury is major or minor, insurance companies should make every effort to adequately compensate victims so they can make a full recovery. Although insurance companies are legally required to act in good faith, most will extend a lowball offer before they even consider paying what the victim deserves.
So, how do you know an insurance company is lowballing you, and what should you do if you discover they are? I’ll tell you about the key signs, how to respond, and when a New York personal injury lawyer may be able to help.
Spotting a Lowball Settlement
Before you accept any offer from an insurance company after an accident, review your offer for ALL of the following.
- Missing Damages
If you are entitled to compensation for a specific injury or type of damages but don’t see it in the settlement offer from your insurer, this is a red flag that you’re being lowballed.
All insurance policies have limits for what they will pay out, but insurers are legally required to act in good faith when determining compensation. Whether economic damages (which have a dollar value) or non-economic damages (like pain and suffering which doesn’t have an official price tag) are missing, don’t accept an offer without discussing the omissions with the insurer. When you inquire, do it in writing and request a written response from the claims adjuster so you can use it as evidence.
- Damages are Not Explained
Any offer should come with an explanation (ideally an itemized list) of what you are being compensated for. If your offer is lower than expected or the insurer is refusing to pay for something, they should also provide an explanation.
Despite this, insurers often include little to no supporting information with an offer, hoping the victim will simply accept it. If an explanation is missing, contact the company immediately in writing. Ask what is included in their offer, what is not being covered, and why.
After this, be prepared to negotiate. If you aren’t comfortable doing this (or if the insurance company won’t budge) it’s best to get in touch with a personal injury lawyer. They know how to effectively negotiate and can remove a lot of stress from your plate. Sometimes once an attorney is involved, the insurance company will quickly offer a fair settlement.
- The Insurer is Pushy
Some of the most effective tactics insurance companies use to get victims to accept low offers are intimidation, pressure, and bullying.
For one, they usually push victims to accept their first offer quickly. As a rule, you should never take the first offer. (Sometimes even a second or third offer will be too low.) If you accept a low offer too soon, you could miss out on key compensation for injuries that have not yet appeared or whose extent is not yet understood. Proper diagnosis and treatment takes time, so remember this when an insurance company is being pushy and never take an offer too soon.
Another common lowball tactic is disputing a victim’s injuries or their extent. Even if an injury doesn’t leave you hospitalized or bedridden for months, that doesn’t mean it is not debilitating. Always visit a doctor immediately after an accident so they can properly document your injuries. If the insurance company won’t agree that your injuries are serious enough to warrant sufficient compensation, contact a lawyer.
Keep in mind that when you push back against an insurance company, they will act aggressively. You need to be prepared for this in order to successfully negotiate. If you are worried that you will be too intimidated, get in touch with a personal injury lawyer for help.
- The Insurer Blames You
In the state of New York, we have what are known as contributory negligence laws. These laws state that accident victims who are in any way responsible for their injuries will receive a reduced settlement. For example, if a court determines that you are 20 percent responsible for a slip because you were distracted by your phone at the time it happened, your settlement will be reduced by that percentage.
Likewise, if there is the chance that you were responsible for the accident, the insurance company could reduce their offer to the degree to which they say you are responsible. Unfortunately, they may not always be correct about whether or not you are responsible at all, in which case working with a personal injury lawyer is recommended.
How to Avoid a Lowball Offer
To steer clear of a lowball offer, knowing which damages you can claim is key. If you know how much compensation you are entitled to, you’ll know right away if an insurer is offering less than you deserve. Start by totaling your economic damages (those that can be assigned a dollar amount) like current medical bills, future medical treatments, property damage, or lost wages. These are relatively easy to do on your own. Just keep receipts from medical treatments and ask your doctor to document further treatments you’ll need in the future.
The next part is a little tougher. You will also need to calculate your general damages (which are harder to quantify) like physical or emotional pain and suffering, loss of activities you could do before the accident, or even the loss of a relationship. Since these are difficult to assign a dollar value to, it’s a good idea to work with a lawyer who understands how to tally these types of losses.
In addition, always document your injuries in as much detail as you can. Take photographs of property that is damaged as well as injuries you sustained, collect statements from anyone who witnessed the accident, and tell your doctor what happened. The more solid evidence you have, the harder it will be for an insurance company to dispute it.
When a Lawyer Can Help
If you are struggling to get your insurance company to fairly compensate you after an accident, working with an attorney with experience in personal injury law is a good plan. Buttafuoco & Associates has been helping New Yorkers fight insurance companies since 1981 and has vast experience in helping victims win against insurers. We may be able to help you, too!
Get in touch with us for a free consultation on your case at 1-800-NOW-HURT.