Insurance companies are not good neighbors. How insurers try to devalue your case and take drastic measures to avoid paying claims.

By John “Mickey” Johnson, Attorney

Close up of a medical insurance formAs soon as an insurance company is notified of a claim, they are figuring out how to devalue it. In the personal injury context, they do this in a variety of ways. They will review your medical records and have a doctor who has never treated you state that your medical treatment was unnecessary. A medical billing expert will also be hired to state that the charges for your medical treatment was unreasonably high. If successful in these efforts, your personal injury claim will be drastically devalued because your past medical expenses – a big part of the damages you are entitled to recover – will at the very least be in question and at the worst be considered null and void. Another tactic often employed by insurers is to attack the credibility of the injured person. They will try to paint them as a villain, an unsavory character or at the very least as someone who is undeserving of compensation. In a recent car wreck case, the insurer hired a private investigator to secretly video tape my client in an effort to establish that my client was embellishing her injuries. They videotaped her on several different days while she was inside her home, picking up family members at school and doing errands. Needless to say my client felt like her privacy had been invaded.

A third tactic implemented by insurers is to delay the litigation in hopes of wearing down the plaintiff to a point where they will agree to accept less than the full value of the case. Plaintiff’s attorneys and their clients usually work under a contingency fee arrangement in which neither the attorney or the client are paid until the case is settled or a verdict is rendered. This arrangement incentives the plaintiff’s lawyer to resolve the case quickly and for as much money possible considering the unique facts and damages in any given case. Insurance defense lawyers on the other hand are typically paid on a billable hour basis. This means that insurance defense lawyers have a personal financial incentive in delaying the resolution of a case and creating more opportunities to bill for their work on a case even when the liability and damages are clear and ripe for settlement.

Though insurance company advertising portrays the insurance industry as good neighbors with your best interest in mind, a recent settlement against State Farm illustrates the great lengths insurers will go to avoid paying claims. According to a story first published by the Chicago tribune, State Farm agreed to pay $250 million on the brink of a trial to customers who claimed the company tried to rig the Illinois justice system to wipe out a $1 billion jury verdict from 19 years ago. No that is not a typo. Even after 19 years State Farm was still fighting.

State Farm Insurance Building ("Fire Building"), Downtown Bloomington, Illinois. Bloomington Central Business District, National Register of Historic Places.

State Farm Insurance Building (“Fire Building”), Downtown Bloomington, Illinois. Bloomington Central Business District, National Register of Historic Places.

The recent settlement stems from a lawsuit alleging that the biggest U.S. auto insurer lead an effort to recruit a judge friendly to its cause for the Illinois Supreme Court by secretly funding Judge LLoyd Karmeier’s 2004 election campaign by funneling money through advocacy groups that didn’t disclose donors. In 1999, an Illinois state court jury awarded the customers $456 million for breach of contract and the trial judge added $730 million in damages on a fraud claim. An appellate court reduced the verdict to $1.056 billion. In 2004, Judge Karmeier, was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court. A year later, that court threw out the award and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, seemingly ending the litigation. Karmeier cast the deciding vote in the case.

While the settlement comes with a typical no fault provision, it does illuminate what some insurers may be willing to do to avoid paying the full value of claims. The only way for you to level the playing field is to hire a lawyer with the dedication, drive, and resources to pursue a case to the lengths necessary to ensure that your case’s fullest value is realized. You shouldn’t have to take on the responsibility of handling the case on your own. There are no up-front costs to hire a trained professional to handle your case. All you should be worried about is treating your injuries and handling your responsibilities. Powell and Castillo Law Firm, PLLC has the experience, the skill, and the initiative to get the job done while still maintaining a strong focus on the attorney-client relationship.