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Insurance Adjusters are People Too

An adjuster suggested that my case was worth only “nuisance value”. That means, he was willing to pay the cost to defend the case (maybe $5,000), but no more. I replied, “You may be willing to settle for nuisance value, but I have to tell you. I can be A VERY BIG NUISANCE…. Just ask my wife. The adjuster chuckled.

I try to approach my communications with insurance companies and their lawyers with a touch of humility, and where appropriate, humor. They may be expecting arrogance and self-righteousness. I try to give them a pleasant surprise, and in the process, disarm much of their uh… defensiveness.

I can almost always establish some kind of collegial bond with the other side. If you treat the adjuster like an enemy, they become your enemy. If you treat him/her like a human being with a job to do, you may have an ally, someone who is searching for a solution to a common problem. Most adjusters are not that emotionally invested in your case. They just want to do their job reasonably well and close the file. It’s not their money.

Here are a few insights I’ve gleaned from my 35 years of negotiating with insurance adjusters.

I don’t chase adjusters. I use the “shiny bowl of milk” approach. I put out the settlement brochure for the adjuster to review. But I don’t aggressively chase after an offer and I don’t beg for offers. You know what happens if you chase a cat. Wait for the cat to come to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t call and ask about settlement. Just don’t be overly aggressive. Eventually the cat will get thirsty.

I’m careful about when I call adjusters (or counsel) for an important negotiation. I try to avoid calling when I’m upset, tired, hungry, in need of caffeine, etc. It’s too easy to let a challenging phone call turn into an angry interaction. I may even meditate or use some other relaxation technique just before making that call. I find that this helps me respond calmly to an attack on my client’s case. Losing your temper almost never helps your client. So wait for the right moment to make that big call. I know a lawyer who keeps a boxer’s heavy bag hanging in his office. After pounding the bag for 30 seconds, he has worked out some of his aggression. Then he can be assertive without being aggressive.

Avoid even the appearance of desperation. Even if my client is demanding that I accept a low offer on a six figure case, I try to find a way to mask my vulnerability. Adjusters can smell panic. So you must convey calm at this uncomfortable time.

A trick to watch out for is the adjuster (or defense lawyer) who claims confidently that he/she believes the case can settle for a certain compromised amount. If you assure them that indeed the case can settle for that amount, you may be disappointed when you hear later that they could not get the necessary authority. Here is what I do. I explain the situation to my client, that the offer is not firm and suggest a non-committal response. I then tell the adjuster that the compromised amount sounds good and that I will recommend it to my client. I may even say that I am pretty sure the client will take it. But I will not fully commit until the offer is firm. That generally results in a firm offer and a settlement.

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