This is the second installment in a two-part blog post discussing the tactics used by insurance companies to avoid or minimize payment of liability claims. (Click here to read Part I). These are only a few examples of the ways insurance companies exploit the unfamiliarity of personal injury victims with the legal process. The defenses and tactics used by an insurance company in a particular case will depend on the facts and circumstances, so we invite you to contact the Cressman Law Firm if you have questions about your specific situation.
Consider Quick Settlement Offers “Fool’s Gold”: Our law firm frequently hears from people injured by the negligence of others who want legal advice after agreeing to a quick settlement. In situations where evidence of liability is reasonably clear, an insurance carrier may offer a quick lowball settlement. The insurer might even provide a settlement check to increase the temptation to take money now rather than endure litigation-related delays. When you receive a prompt voluntary offer from an insurance company, this probably means that the value of your claim is worth considerably more. Insurance companies typically will ask you to sign a “General Release” that might require you to waive any and all legal rights, including those for claims that you do not know exist. A personal injury lawyer should review any proposed settlement before you sign anything.
Exploitation of Delayed Treatment or Missed Medical Appointments: Many people who are involved in accidents do not immediately visit a hospital or doctor because they have only minor symptoms. However, the failure to seek prompt medical attention following a car accident or a fall on a wet floor in a grocery store often will be exploited by an insurer. The insurance company might claim that a delay in seeking medical care is evidence that the plaintiff is malingering or exaggerating his or her injuries. If an injury victim fails to obtain ordered diagnostic testing; to attend medical appointments, or to complete rehabilitative therapy, this information also might be used to minimize injury claims. The carrier also might contend that the failure of the plaintiff to follow medical recommendations constituted a failure to “mitigate” damages. While this will not preclude recovery, it could result in a reduction in the amount recovered.
Application of Financial Pressure through Delay: A lengthy claims process can be a welcome development for an insurance company. The insurance carrier can keep funds that would be used to pay a claim invested, so they earn a return until a case is resolved through payment of a settlement or judgment. By the same token, injury victims face increasing financial pressure as medical bills mount especially if the plaintiff is disabled for any period of time. The mounting financial pressure on injury victims can compel them to accept less than the value of their claim.
Leveraging Critical Deadlines: Insurance companies recognize that injury victims who are unrepresented might easily run afoul of mandatory legal requirements and deadlines that can derail their claim. Failure to comply with these legal requirements can have a devastating consequence on a victim’s legal rights and remedies. If a plaintiff does not file a complaint to initiate a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, for example, this failure will usually constitute a complete bar to recovery subject to narrow exceptions. Similarly, a lawsuit against a public entity, such as the City or Orlando or State of Florida typically will be subject to special procedures and notice within a shorter deadline. Non-compliance with these special rules and timelines can prohibit suing the government entity. Insurers might stall the claims process while appearing to negotiate a settlement until a critical deadline has expired.
Shifting Blame to the Victim: Insurance companies frequently assert the defense of “comparative negligence”. This legal doctrine involves allocating some degree of fault to the plaintiff based on the failure of an injury victim to exercise reasonable care for his or her own safety. While the precise application of the comparative negligence defense varies based on state law, plaintiffs in Florida will have their recovery reduced in proportion to the percentage of fault assigned to the injury victim. This defense can completely bar recovery in some states if the amount of the plaintiff’s negligence is 50 or 51 percent or greater, but Florida does not follow this rule.
If you have been injured by the negligence of another individual, public entity or corporation, Mr. Cressman has over two decades of experience taking on large insurance carriers. His familiarity with insurance company tactics and traps can help guide your through the claims process. We invite you to call to schedule a free consultation today to learn about your legal rights and obtain a case evaluation at 407-877-7317.