In a recent article for DRI, Theresa M. Beck of Lincoln Gustafson & Cercos discussed 10 things lawyers do that are adjusters pet peeves. The article, “Are You Driving Your Adjuster Clients Crazy? Ten Things Lawyers Do That Make Clients Want to Tear Their Hair Out" resulted in an excellent discussion on these issues, but also posed the question of what pet peeves lawyers have about adjusters. Although some scoffed at the idea of lawyers having pet peeves because adjusters hold the checkbook and others stated that lawyers would be too worried about posting them...I am happy to share as it will only help in our working relationships with each other.
Yes…we as lawyers do have pet peeves in dealing with insurance companies and adjusters. The following is a list I composed from interviewing several insurance defense attorneys in varying areas of the insurance defense practice. Much of the frustration came from policies and procedures of the insurance companies rather than specific issues with adjusters. The purpose of this article is to provide both adjusters and their employers information that may be useful to them in dealing with their defense counsel in the future. My hope is to provide information that will improve relationships and foster the team approach to litigation.
Lack of consistency in who is handling the file can really hamper a lawyer’s ability to effectively manage litigation on a file. When a case gets transferred from adjuster to adjuster, it makes it very difficult to come up with and stick to a strategy because each adjuster has different ideas of how things should be handled, which not only sets litigation back but weakens our position in the eyes of opposing counsel. These types of changes are usually due to internal staffing and company changes, and while it may be necessary to change adjusters in some situations, consistency in the file can save both time and expense.
As lawyers, we recognize that many times this cannot be helped because you may not have gotten notice of litigation or pending deadlines until the last minute. However, every attorney I interviewed said that one of the toughest things for them to deal with is the last minute referral. This is the referral that comes in the day the answer is due, or a day or two prior to a mediation taking place. While we all understand how busy adjusters are, this is something that can significantly impact the case. We lawyers need time to delve into the facts of the case and conduct some initial investigation to ensure we raise appropriate defenses. Therefore, if you believe a case is likely to lead to litigation, give the counsel you are going to refer it to a heads up. They can keep an eye out for pending events until the official referral comes.
Many of the attorneys I spoke with said that too often they are provided only the basic information from the adjuster’s file when the case is referred to them. Maybe a referral letter with some pertinent facts and the complaint is all that we get. If this is all that you have, we can deal with it. But many times, we know that you have more. We need your entire file. All of your notes, the initial investigation information, a copy of the policy and any and all documentation you have is needed when you send us the file. This information will determine how the complaint is responded to and can make a huge difference in what defenses are raised.
When you hire a lawyer you do so to protect your insured’s and insurance company. Our job is to look at each particular case, including the relevant law, jurisdiction, opposing counsel and the assigned judge. All aspects of a case will affect how we approach litigation and settlement. Our job is to advise you based on all of this information as to what the best strategy is, and although we understand there may be times you disagree with us, don’t just ignore our advice. Every attorney I interviewed for this article had an example where their advice was consistently asked for during litigation of a case, yet ignored each time it was offered. Not surprisingly, the result of cases like this was not good leading to strained relationships between the attorney and that particular adjuster.
As adjusters, you have to juggle several different balls to make sure you are in compliance with the law and internal policies of your companies. You may not realize how your activity in adjusting the case can affect litigation and exposure. A perfect example is when you contact opposing counsel directly to negotiate settlement of the case without discussing it with your counsel. This can significantly affect litigation and settlement strategy. You have to realize that litigation is like putting on a play. You want the other side to buy into your set of facts and story. You are paying your counsel to set the stage but then weaken the ability to finalize the play when you do things without involving your counsel. Keeping us informed and allowing us to coach you based on the strategy chosen is essential to a good outcome.
We have all had one. A case where someone on the other side is a total dirt bag. It is hard to not take things personally when confronted with such horrible people. But one of the hardest things we have to do as lawyers and adjusters is separate our emotions from the case. For us, the action we take, including settlement, is a business decision and nothing more. That said, many of the attorneys I interviewed said that a major problem is when you have an adjuster that personalizes the case. Most of the lawyers interviewed also said that this usually happens with the same adjusters; meaning that they have a handful of adjusters that they know will personalize aspects of every case and others that won’t get emotionally invested at all. This is troublesome for us because we end up fighting our adjuster to get the case resolved.
We all have our preferred list of experts for each type of case we are dealing with. The wrong expert on a case can cost you. Many of the attorneys I spoke with indicated another problem for them is when the adjusters do not want to use the expert they want on a case. The selection of an expert is not limited to their experience and skills, but other aspects as well. Will their personality work well on this case, have they worked with opposing counsel before and if so could that help us, do we want to hire them and conflict them out so opposing counsel can't hire them, etc. If we are recommending someone specific, there is a reason. Discuss it with us to understand that reason and if that expert costs a bit more than you were expecting, it may still be worth it.
Another big complaint from the attorneys interviewed was not being able to talk with the adjuster. We know that you are busy and do not want us to bother you unless we need to. When we call or email you, there is usually something that we need an answer or guidance on that is pretty important and needs attention quickly. We understand that it still may take you a day or two to respond because of your case load. However, many of the attorneys interviewed said that they have a handful of adjusters who never respond to calls or email. In some cases these attorneys said that there was a deadline that was pending and as a result they had no choice but to go over the adjuster’s head. We do not like to do this. So, please call us back and respond to our emails.
The bottom line…we know you want to pay us as little as possible for as much work as we can perform. We understand that. As a result we defense attorneys strive to be as efficient as possible and bill appropriately. In many instances you are likely not being billed for some of the work we do, because we know you will cut it. That said, there will be times where something is billed for that you disagree with. However, a large complaint from many defense attorneys is when time is cut for activities that we have to do in order to prepare the case for trial and in order to comply with the rules of our Bar. If it is on the bill, we have already reviewed it and feel it is in compliance with the guidelines and appropriate to bill for. Many times this time is cut because of a bill review company who is hired to review bills, but whose own fee is tied to how much of our bills they can cut. You should always review our bills and talk with us on items you question.
Although we are not your employee, we are hired by you to provide a service. Just as with an employee, we need to know how we are doing. If you do not communicate with us, we have no measure to base our future work on. Tell us what you like that we do and more importantly, tell us what you do not like. If you do not communicate issues you have with the services or work we are providing, we cannot make efforts to rectify the issues. So please…talk to us regularly about our service and how we are doing.