When you or a loved one have been badly hurt in a catastrophic trucking accident, you may expect someone from the trucking company or its insurer to try to lull you into complacency. The objective is to avoid paying the value of the case, which they recognize is substantial. The tactics may remind you of the old joke, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” They are from the insurance company and are “here to help you.”
The standard tactics, which my friend Morgan Adams in Chattanooga discussed in a recent blog post, include some variation of the following:
1. Pretending to be your friend. At trucking defense seminars, claims adjusters talk about how they try to become friends with a family by apologizing and offering to buy them a car and a house in exchange for giving up their claims. The adjusters take every opportunity to demonize any lawyers that the family might hire to represent them. At all costs they want to prevent the family from talking to an experienced trucking lawyer who would know how to investigate the case, demand that the company preserve paper and electronic records, and discovery trucking company’s violations of laws that contributed to causing the crash. In one recent case we handled, the adjuster started out talking to the family about paying their deductibles and copays on medical expense, and replacing their car, while at the same time trying to dispose of the physical evidence. But when the family hired me, and I deployed a rapid response to preserve evidence and make appropriate demands, the company soon paid its million dollar policy limit. Insurance adjusters know that revealing the truth could increase the value of the case significantly, and will do whatever they can to prevent that.
2. The misuse of annuities. Structured settlement annuities are a useful tool in settling cases because all the lifetime payments are tax-free and the burden of managing investments is lifted. However, in considering structured settlements, it is essential to focus first on what the defendant or its insurer is paying. Insurance companies will often show an unrepresented plaintiff that they will pay your family a million dollars over the next thirty years, while failing to mention that the annuity only costs $100,000 (or whatever) while the case has a present fair value in excess of a million dollars. In addition, they will use one of their own affiliated companies and brokers to issue the annuity, just switching the money from one hand to another. Thus, they play a shell game and get by with paying only a fraction of what the case is worth.
3. Inflation. No one knows exactly what future inflation will be, but we know that historically there is likely to be inflation. The adjusters will not seriously discuss with you how inflation will affect the value of funds paid.
4. Future medical expense. They exclude consideration of future medical expenses that eat into money paid to the family.They often fail to inform you of the impact of reimbursement claims by your health insurer, and do not protect your interests against such claims.
5. Future income loss. They exclude consideration of the full loss of income of the victim. People who have had major injuries often can’t work as much or as long as they would have, even if they initially return to work at the same job and at the same rate of pay.
6. Non-economic loss. They treat the non-economic losses of the family as having little or no value. The loss of quality of life, or the loss of a parent, is a matter of immense value which must be accounted for in a fair settlement of a case.
Remember the insurance adjuster’s job is to try to minimize payments on claims. No matter how friendly they may act, they are not there to help you.
Ken Shigley is an interstate trucking trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute, is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, and is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. Mr. Shigley has extensive experience representing parties in trucking and bus accidents, products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. Currently he is Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.