I hear it at least once a week, or some variation of it. “I’m just going to let it go. I don’t want to make a claim.” When I inquire why they want to surrender their ability to exert their legal right to protect themselves after an injury caused by someone else’s carelessness, they often say something about not wanting to be “one of those people.” Another common one: “I’m not litigious. I’ve never made a claim.”
Well, making a claim for your legal right for reimbursement, whether it be for personal injury or property damages or lost earnings or pain and suffering, is not being litigious. More often than not, these claims are resolved via amicable settlement negotiations. This, of course, presumes that the insurance company involved is reasonable, which is not always the case. In those instances, yes, litigation may be warranted. But otherwise, a settlement is typically the end result. Making a claim does not involve litigation.
For those people that say, “I’ve never made a claim,” they’re either extremely lucky to never have had any injury or property damage EVER or they’re basically admitting to being taken advantage of. Because if you’ve paid into a fund for later reimbursement in the event of a certain event (the purpose of insurance), that event occurs, and you’re entitled to recover, but you ignore your right to recovery, you’re either letting the insurance company make your financial decisions for you, or you’re donating your money to the wrong “charity.” When you die, and your life insurance policy is getting ready to issue its payment, do you want your family to say, “Well, we don’t want to profit from our loved one’s death”? It’s the same thing, but somehow the insurance companies have twisted our thinking on the issues at play.
Another common refrain: “I don’t want to seem like I’m taking advantage of the situation.” Trust me, the average person fighting with an adjuster will not get what’s fair, let alone get enough to come even close to ever being accused of taking advantage of the situation. Even by getting an attorney who’s trained in this field, you won’t be able to “take advantage” of the situation. An attorney is going to still have to fight to get you just what you’re owed. Bottom line: if you’re thinking like this from the start, you’re the one being taken advantage of. The insurance company has already groomed you to help them increase their margins by not collecting funds that you or someone else has paid into for this very occasion. (All of this presumes what is true in 99.9% of instances, that is, that there is a legitimate injury and right of recovery.) When you go to a car dealership to get a new car, do you negotiate the price or let the dealership take advantage of you by paying the sticker price? It’s a similar mindset if you’re foregoing a right to legal recovery.
But this goes to prove the point that the insurance companies have largely won the battle of perception in the public eye, meaning that they’ve been able to portray anyone who needs to make a claim as someone who’s somehow less of a person than someone who just “goes away” and declines to seek the compensation that they’ve oftentimes already pre-paid for in their insurance policies.
When you get sick and go the doctor, and the front desk tells you that you only owe a $50 co-pay because your insurance covers the balance of the $250 visit, does this person who “doesn’t want to take advantage of the situation” politely decline to use his or her insurance and, instead, pay the full $250? Of course not. They’ve paid into the fund for just this situation. It’s not “taking advantage” to recoup what you’re entitled to receive.
Are there instances where abuses exist amongst those who make claims or file suit? Absolutely. But for every one of those cases, I’d argue there are hundreds more that are either wrongly denied by the insurance company or otherwise devalued by its adjusters. And for every one of those instances of abuse of the system, there are another hundred cases where the insurance companies get off scott-free from making any payments because someone has volunteered to relinquish their rights to what they’re owed. The trouble for personal injury attorneys and claimants is that the news loves sharing that one-in-a-thousand case that is, even amongst personal injury attorneys, regarded as baseless or perhaps worse, absurd.
So, let’s take the typical auto collision where someone is rear-ended, has property damage to their vehicle, and is injured. I’ve spoken with a small, but significant, subset of folks who insist that all they want is to make sure their vehicle is repaired but refuse to make a claim for personal injury…despite significant and, sometimes, permanent injuries (though they don’t often realize how lasting the injury is going to be at that point). I ask them: what is the difference between making a claim for property damage and making a claim for personal injury? Why are you “only seeking what’s deserved” in the property damage half of the case but “being litigious” when seeking reimbursement for reimbursement for personal injuries? Why are you willing to hold the insurance company accountable for their insured’s negligence when it comes to the property damage but unwilling to hold them accountable for something much more valuable? Put another way, why is your vehicle more important than your physical health and wellbeing?
The answer is, quite obviously, that it’s not. You can get another car. But you’re “stuck” with your body for the rest of your time here on this planet, for better or worse. But the insurance companies have done a hell of a job portraying personal injury as a dirty word (or phrase). They make it seem like they hold a firm spot atop moral high ground when they take this position but, in all reality, it’s only geared towards increasing profits by decreasing the amount of people that recoup what they’re otherwise entitled to after an injury.
Have personal injury attorneys helped the insurance companies sell this pitch to the public? No doubt. The cheesy commercials and the attorneys who’ll take any case, even illegitimate ones, certainly don’t help the general cause of personal injury attorneys who are trying to do what’s right.
But at the end of the day, these attorneys (whether they have terrible advertisements or bring terrible cases) are a small minority of the much greater whole of personal injury attorneys and firms who genuinely care about people, only take legitimate cases, and do what’s right: fighting for fair compensation for clients who are otherwise at a big disadvantage against insurance companies that make billions in profits and train their employees to shortchange claimants at every step of the way.
If insurance companies were serious about tort reform and wanted to get rid of personal injury attorneys, all they’d have to do is start paying people who are owed settlements fair and reasonable compensation, and the need for lawyers like me would cease. And I’d be fine with that. But they never will because, to do what is right and pay people what they’re owed, it will dip into their massive profits. Instead, they’d rather invest time, energy and funds into a public campaign to convince good people that they should relinquish their rights to fair compensation for injuries. And if that doesn’t work and a person brings a claim, they’d rather invest more time, energy and funds to have an adjuster resist the claim. And if that doesn’t work, they’d rather pay an attorney to fight the case in court versus pay what is rightly owed.
In short, if you’ve been injured but are reluctant to make a claim, at least talk to an attorney before giving up your rights. And don’t just talk to any attorney; talk to an attorney who has spent his/her career in personal injury law and knows the intricacies of the law. Better still, talk with a personal injury attorney who has a track record of trying cases, so that the insurance companies know they can’t bully the attorney into a settlement that is less than what otherwise is warranted based on the very specific facts of your case.
If you’d like to discuss a case, please feel free to contact me. There’s never a charge for a consultation, so you have nothing to lose by investigating the matter further before making a decision on what you want to do. Conversely, you have a lot to lose by not investigating your rights and options.
You might be telling yourself you don’t want to be “one of those people” or “take advantage of the system” but, I assure you, if you don’t consult an attorney after an injury, you’ll be the one taken advantage of.