April 19, 2019

Claim Negotiating: Parrying the Lawyer Threat by Taking it in Stride

“I’m going to get a lawyer if you don’t pay me!!”

Sound familiar?  To the claims adjuster, it sounds familiar.  When I began my career as a street adjuster for Crawford & Company, the threat rattled me at first.

With time, I became inured to it.

I eventually realized that a lawyer is not a magic wand.  The damages are what they are.  Five thousand dollars in medical bills is five thousand, whether you get a lawyer or not.  Three thousand dollars in wage loss is three thousand, even if Gloria Allred is your attorney.  A scar on your left ankle is the same scar, even if you have Gerry Spence handling your case.  Case value is case value.  The entry of an attorney does not wave some magic wand over a claim, mystically inflating its value.  Such is a popular misconception, though.

Well, this is the theory at least. In practice, there are ways that a lawyer can influence the value of a case.

#1.  Directing medical care.  The attorney can send the claimant to certain doctors and health care facilities which can goose up the medical tab.  Many claimant attorneys have their own pet networks of orthopedic specialists, neurologists, physical therapists, chiropractors, etc.

#2.  Disability certifications from “friendly” doctors.  When the attorney sends the claimant to hand-picked physicians, the latter may be more inclined to certify the claimant as being disabled. In this way, selecting the treating physicians can influence the lost wage component of a claim, further jacking up the specials.

#3.  Additional damages.  The attorney may see certain aspects of damage which an unrepresented claimant would have never considered.  These might include future wage loss, future pain and suffering, permanent disability, future medical care, medical monitoring and so-called hedonic damages for loss of enjoyment of life.  Unrepresented persons may not realize that, due to the collateral source rule, they can actually include as “damages” bills which other insurance and benefit plans have covered.

#4.  Attorney clout and reputation.  No matter what you say, picking the right attorney can sometimes influence claim value; the adjuster needs to recognize this.  Find out who are the “heavy-hitters” in your locale.  Certain attorneys are bell-ringers: very effective in the courtroom, selective in accepting cases, persuasive to juries, well-financed to take cases and work them through trial.  For example, I have heard that Chicago’s Corboy & Demetrio will not accept a personal injury case unless it feels the case is worth at least $1 million.

For every Corboy firm, though, there are dozens or more personal injury “mills.” These work on volume — not necessarily on quality — in personal injury work.  They may advertise heavily.  Some of these attorneys may not have seen the inside of a courtroom for years.

Once claimants see that you are not rattled by the prospect of dealing with a lawyer, they may reconsider the wisdom of following through on the threat.  Tell them that you have very good attorneys as well.  Those lawyers will be eager to take the claimant’s deposition under oath.  This bracing bit of news may cause the claimant to pause and reflect.

What technique has worked for you in parrying the attorney threat?  Share your comment or experience here!

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