Friday, June 20, 2008

Pay the dough you know you owe!

Before I joined Dwyer Williams Potter, I was an insurance defense attorney. On that side of the case, I did essentially the same thing as I do here; namely, review the medical records, put a value on the case, and try to settle it.

My first week as a Plaintiff’s attorney here at DWP, I was given a file to review. The case involved a guy who was severely injured by a driver who only had $25,000 insurance coverage (the minimum in Oregon). Fortunately, our client had a $100,000 insurance policy. So, we took the $25,000 from the at-fault driver and made an underinsured motorist (UIM) claim against our client’s own insurance carrier. I started work for DWP just as the UIM claim was getting started.

It took one look through the medical records and investigative file to determine the case had a value of several hundred thousand dollars. Knowing there was only a $100,000.00 insurance policy, I called the insurance adjuster and explained my position and asked for the entire policy. Rather than talk about the merits of the case or the value, the adjuster said he needed "one more document" to complete his investigation and a settlement offer would be coming soon. After several more telephone calls and additional requests for meaningless documents, I realized the adjuster was never going to pay and he would always ask for “one more document” to review. I filed the case, went to arbitration, and received an award well in excess of the policy. Of course, I could only collect up to the policy limits. This begs the question, why won’t insurance companies pay the dough they know they owe? The answer is two-fold.

First, there is always the chance that someone will take less than they are owed. People take less than they are owed for a number of reasons. One reason is that people can’t wait out the insurance companies like they can wait you out. You have car payments, a mortgage, and living expenses. The insurance company does not.

Second, even when the insurance company evaluates a claim and knows they should pay; they can make money on the money they should be paying you. Because they have your money invested, the longer they hold the money the more they can make. The insurance company has little or no incentive to pay what is due.

Unfortunately, it often takes an attorney to push forward and make the insurance company go to trial or arbitration to pay what they know they owe. Litigation can be costly and distressing, but it is often necessary, as insurance companies rarely do the right thing for the injured person. Remember, insurance companies are in the business of making money. They make money by taking premiums and paying out little or nothing. Your interest and the insurance company’s interest are opposite each other.

If you wait for insurance companies to treat your fairly or do the right thing, you may be waiting in vain. Even more troubling is that you have specific time limits, known as the statute of limitation, by which you must either file a lawsuit or settle. Of course the insurance company knows about these times and dates and has them calendared. The insurance company would love nothing more for you to wait around while the time to bring your case slips by. If that happens, you’ll have lost your rights to pursue your case forever.

-Arne Cherkoss

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