by Scott Blumenshine
Insurance companies want to settle claims for the lowest amount possible. The insurance business strategy is to advertise like mad and then collect insurance premiums. Paying your uninsured motorist claim is not a priority for insurers. Paying claims reduces insurance company profitability. Insurer advertising invokes thoughts and feelings that insurers are there for you like a kind wealthy uncle. When they want you to pay, they are wonderful. When you need them to pay, not so much.
The insurance adjuster is not Santa Clause. Think Ebenezer Scrooge before his conversion. Know that your claim value evaluation is likely to be higher than the insurer’s claim value evaluation. You simply will be better able to mentally handle the process if you are prepared for a miserly offer. We have heard time and time again from clients who were unprepared for the harsh treatment they have received from insurers.
The nature and extent of your injury is a major factor in valuing your claim. You must make an objective evaluation of your injury claim that starts with understanding the nature of your injury. A short term minor injury has modest settlement value. A severe permanent injury has significant value.
The primary injury considerations are:
Permanent v. temporary – permanency can double or triple your claim value.
Single body part v. multiple body parts – multiple injuries can be a multiplier on your injury claim value.
Disabling v. annoying – an injury that truly disables or limits you increases the claim value.
Painful v. annoying – provable pain increases the value of your claim.
Disfiguring v. “invisible” – visible injuries such as scarring or burns increase case value.
To use an example, you have a back injury. A back sprain is worth less than a herniated disc. A back sprain typically is not as painful, disabling or as expensive to treat as a herniated disc and typically heals within months. A typical herniated disc can be excruciatingly painful with pain shooting down your into your legs, it can render you bedridden, and may take years to heal, if it ever heals. The usual back sprain usually requires modest treatment and medical bills: an emergency room visit and follow up with an internist and physical therapy or chiropractic. A herniated disc will require a visit with a specialist such as an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon, an MRI or CT Scan and extensive therapy, injections and maybe surgery.
The amount of your medical bills is the other big factor in evaluating your injury claim. Insurance companies know that economic damages typically will be compensated by an arbitrator, therefore the insurance adjuster is inclined to include your medical expenses in the settlement offer. Once upon a time, the concept existed that a case should settle for three times the amount of your medical bills. This is no longer true. It is still true, however, that insurers will use your medical bills as a primary basis for their offer.
Your pain, disability and disfigurement should be significant factors in evaluating the worth of your uninsured motorist claim. How to evaluate these items? Think about frequency, severity and effects. For example, was your pain constant or occasional, was your pain mild or severe, and was your pain something that prohibited you from normal activities or was is just an annoyance. Be prepared to prove these things in order to persuade the insurer.
The forum is the place where your case will be decided. In Illinois, uninsured motorist claims are heard in arbitration, if they not settled by negotiation. The hearing can be in front of a three arbitrator panel or in front of a single arbitrator. You need to know who is hearing your case. Certain arbitrators lean toward a more open minded view on injury case value and awarding damages. Some arbitrators are more conservative or restricted in their view of injury claims. You would do well to know.
If you look and sound like a believable person who was injured, the arbitrator will be more inclined to award you proper compensation. If you are evasive, shifty, slovenly or downright untruthful, you will be penalized with an insufficient award. Tell the truth. Dress well. Look the arbitrator in the eye. If you had an old back injury that was aggravated in this incident, you have to tell the doctors and the insurance company. If your back healed from the old incident, tell them that and you will have more credibility. In sum, if you look and sound likeable and believable, you increase your chance to obtain fair compensation for your uninsured motorist claim.
Your claim may be worth $1,000,000 but if you bought just $100,000 in uninsured motorist coverage, your maximum recovery is the $100,000. In 25 years of handling uninsured motorist claims, we have seen far too many clients with inadequate uninsured motorist coverage. Buying low policy of limits of just $20,000 to $100,000 is penny wise but may be pound foolish. An overnight stay at the hospital can cost $20,000. Increased coverage limits does not cost as much as you may think. Many attorneys and insurance professionals believe people should have at least $500,000 in uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
Ask your agent about the costs of increased coverage. Increased coverage is not proportionately more expensive. For example, if a policy with $100,000 in coverage limits costs $1,000 annually, a policy with $250,000 in coverage limits might cost just another $100. In the event of a serious injury with an uninsured or underinsured motorist, that is extremely well spent protection.
The above are my thoughts about valuing your uninsured motorist claim.
My thoughts are based on years of experience in representing people in uninsured motorist claims, arguing the facts and law in court, writing on the subject and presenting materials at continuing law education seminars.
Every case is unique and your case must be evaluated independently based on the facts of your case and applicable law. I certainly hope the article contains some useful information, and if you have questions, I would be glad to take time to speak with you.
If your insurer is not paying you what you think you deserve, let us review your case. Call us at (312) 263-1000 or contact us and we’ll call you. This is a free no obligation consultation.
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