WHY STATE FARM IS NOT YOUR GOOD NEIGHBOR
A PLAN ON HOW TO COMBAT STATE FARM ON FLORIDA INJURY CLAIMS
What happens when a major insurance carrier decides to suddenly dig in their heels and drastically alter the manner in which they evaluate injury claims? What does this mean to their insured’s, the injured, the attorneys and the judicial system? I think we are in the process of finding out as State Farm appears to have taken such a stance. Where they previously applied scrutiny to every claim they have now taken a far more aggressive stance and low ball practically every claim placing cookie cutter defenses and leaving plaintiff attorneys with a take it or fight us attitude. I have spoken with a number of my colleagues throughout Florida and this appears to be a statewide issue. Several attorneys have stated that State Farm has hired a new Litigation Manager for Florida and he has instructed adjusters statewide to defend claims and offer very low amounts at mediation. Insurance carriers like State Farm retain Actuaries (mathematicians) who determine probability formulas. In other words, they determine the risk the carrier has by implementing a claims evaluation strategy. State Farm is well aware that most attorneys do not try cases and even the trial lawyers cannot afford to take every low ball offer to trial. Thus, they have taken the posture of challenging the trial lawyers with a take it or leave it attitude. Our judicial system has evolved in a manner that certain protections are in place to give all parties a fair opportunity to settle their cases prior to jury trial. Although there are a variety of reasons why a case must be heard and decided by a jury the greater percentage are able to be resolved using competent mediators and reasonable attorneys. When an insurance company decides that it is going not going to offer fair compensation for a claim, it forces the plaintiffs and their attorneys to either take a low ball offer or pursue a case to trial. Civil trials of this nature take huge amounts of judicial resources, time and money to be properly presented to a jury. Does it make sense that a plaintiff spends upwards of $20,000.00 to properly present a case to a jury when the value of their claim could have been settled for $15,000.00? This new format will actually force the insurance company to spend thousands of dollars defending the claim and hiring experts instead of settling the case for a reasonable value. That is right…they will spend more money defending the case and forcing these cases to trial than they could of spent to resolve the case at mediation. So what are plaintiffs’ attorneys to do? Are they to settle these cases for a fraction of their value or take these cases to trial? Tort reform has been a calculated campaign to taint jury pools across America into believing that most injury claims are nothing more than an attempt for individuals to use car accidents as a potential windfall of cash settlements. This strengthens the insurance carriers tactics to push these cases to trial as they are assured to have several members of the potential jury pool walking in with skepticism. Over the last decade this has led to a record number of verdicts for the insurance companies even when the evidence proposes otherwise. This campaign tricks consumers into giving away their rights to seek compensation. So one can either take it or fight them knowing that the battle is uphill and potentially not favorable. Many attorneys and their respective firms will take it and such inaction only strengthens the insurance company bean counters that they have developed an ingenious business model, right? Wrong! The answer is to fight them. Fight them and make very reasonable offers to settle and let the jury decide. Once the jury awards a settlement that exceeds your proposed amount by 25% the courts will make them pay attorney fees and cost. These fees and cost can easily get in excess of 200k on cases that could have been resolved for as little as $15,000.00 months and years prior to taking a case to trial. This is how you show the insurance companies that we will not tolerate their take it or fight us attitude. I am not in the business of begging and it surely wont start now with these cut throat insurance companies treating injured people like HOW TO TAKE ON STATE FARM CLAIMS IN FLORIDA ON MODERATE IMPACT CASES 1.) Properly vet your case: is your client a strong witness with a good background? Are they believable? Is the property damage demonstrable? All personal injury lawyers are aware of how the insurance carriers evaluate minor impact claims. In regards to State Farm, we need to show demonstrable property damage for our formula to work. Moderate impact cases should not raise fear in the same manner as minor impact. For purposes of this discussion, we define "minor impact" as property damage under $1000.00. 2.) If you have a client that a jury would view favorably with a medical history devoid of significant discogenic pathology or extremity injuries, with demonstrable injuries, I recommend filing your lawsuit right away. There is no point in working up the medical portion for four to six months. Rather, get the case into litigation upon confirming there is in fact coverage. By the time, your client has completed all forms of conservative care and minimally invasive injection therapy, you should be at or near mediation. 3.) Be sure to diary your case and file a proposal for settlement (PFS) very early in the case. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure allow us to file our proposal 91 days following service on the defendant. The goal is to set the proposal high enough to clearly cover the medical bills(and provide a little bit of room to incur additional bills) but low enough that you can beat such by 25% to recover fees and costs. Further, you don't want to set it too low or the carrier (in this case State Farm) will happily pay it. When you get the proposal in early the greater the chance that the carrier/defense lawyer will be caught off guard and not scrutinize the claim in detail. Insurance defense lawyers are not used to receiving proposals so early in the case. 4.) Once the proposal expires, it is now time to aggressively work up the case with the retention of experts. Upon expiration of the PFS, all costs and fees begin to toll after such date. At this point so long as the jury awards past medical bills, you will beat the PFS and collect fees and costs. Although these are still high risk cases, they no longer have to be l"high risk low reward" propositions. The goal is to get State Farm and other carriers from adopting this mentality for the long term. If the Florida plaintiffs bar can beat State Farm at trial on enough proposals, they may quickly rethink their cookie cutter strategy. We are routinely seeing offers of $5000.00 to $10,000.00 on non-surgical disc cases with moderate property damage. In fact, their offers are often below the outstanding medicals. State Farm claims to be " like a good neighbor." However a good neighbor would not expose their insured to potential personal exposure as opposed to retiring such claims with a low policy limits tender. State Farm's strategy does not seem to take into account their insured's best interest. If you are interested in taking on State Farm and would like more advice, call us today or send me an email.