(Warning: If you are thinking about hiring an attorney, you may be better off not negotiating at all. My experience is that the more you talk to an adjuster the harder it is for me to negotiate later. I have had folks come to me after they have botched a negotiation, and I end up having to file a suit in cases I could probably have negotiated to a fair settlement. Adjusters negotiate for a living. They can get a good idea of what you will take just from talking with you. If they decide that they can get off without paying the fair value of the claim, it can be hard to ever convince them otherwise.)
Negotiation is an art, and it takes practice. Most people do it and are not even aware of it. For instance, if you want to go out to eat, but your spouse wants to stay home and have a light supper, you will probably negotiate a little. If you have children, you probably negotiate with them constantly!
The trick is to use the negotiating skills you already have when negotiating your motor vehicle claim. Here are some tips that I have found helpful in my practice handling North Carolina wreck cases. Just remember - they are not written in stone and work better in some circumstances than in others.
1. The basics are pretty simple: figure out what your bottom line is, the amount that is the least you will take no matter what.
2. Try not to bid first. Ask the adjuster to tell you what he or she is willing to pay.
3. Expect the adjuster to start with a low-ball offer.
4. Ask for enough money above your bottom line that you can meet the adjuster in the middle, either at or above your bottom line.
5. Be prepared for the adjuster to bargain hard, and do not be intimidated if the adjuster turns mean on you. Keep your cool.
6. At some point the adjuster will tell you that they have reached their bottom line and will not pay any more than that. Do not accept that at face value, and continue to negotiate. Don’t panic; keep your cool.
7. Don’t bid against yourself. In other words, once you make an offer, don’t make another offer until the adjuster makes a new offer.
8. Settle the case if you are at or above your bottom line and the adjuster refuses to offer any more.
9. If the adjuster never offers enough to reach your bottom line, consider how far from it the adjuster is. If the adjuster is close, you should weigh whether the advantages of calling a lawyer and trying to get more outweigh the disadvantages of inconvenience, time, and further investment. If the adjuster is nowhere near your bottom line, you should call a lawyer and find out what your options are.
10. Keep your cool.
As a lawyer, I have one advantage that isn’t easily available to you. If the adjuster doesn’t reach a bottom line I think is fair, I can prepare a Civil Action Complaint and go down to the Courthouse and file a lawsuit. Unfortunately, without the real threat of a lawsuit, some adjusters simply will not offer you what your claim is worth. I can’t count the number of times folks have come to me with offers from insurance adjusters that were less than their medical bills and I’ve gotten them a fair settlement for far more.
I’m not saying that I can turn a bad case into a good case. What I am saying is that adjusters sometimes do not treat people the way they should be treated unless the adjuster knows there is a real threat of a lawsuit. And some adjusters don’t do the right thing even then. Sometimes it takes getting the case in front of a jury and letting them decide.
So if you’ve been in an automobile accident, use the same negotiating skills you use in everyday life to negotiate with an insurance adjuster. Figure out what your bottom line is and ask for more than that, so that you can bargain down to your bottom line. Don’t be intimidated. Keep your cool. And if you’re planning to hire an attorney, you may want to leave the negotiating to them.