Negotiating Can Be Tricky

Have you ever regretted saying something, even though you didn’t intend to offend? In personal injury claims, it seems that barbs are traded on an all-too-regular basis. Even though it’s usually by the insurance defense, since adjusters and attorneys for insurance company don’t seem to have much to lose, unlike my clients who have often had their lives turned upside down, I have to admit I’ve occasionally fallen into the fray. This is my account of one of those (very tame) times.

Not too long ago, I was helping a pro bono client with a very small claim. I know, I can’t run a business if I take small claims, but it was the right kind of situation. My client had been crashed into while driving on Court Street in Pasco on her way home to Kennewick. Her medical expenses were only a couple of thousand dollars, and she had no permanent injury. But she needed her bills paid and she wanted a token amount for her trouble. After my demand, the insurance company offered her medical expenses plus $100. My first thought was maybe the seasoned claims adjuster was transported through a time warp from the 60’s when tuition to state college cost $500 a year. So I contacted the adjuster for “Typical” Insurance. After a little bit of (no) negotiations, this is what I emailed to the adjuster:

Dear Adjuster,
It does not cease to amaze me that Typical Insurance would rather spend $5,000 defending a claim, paying their experts, and outsourcing their lawyers, than $900
[my demand] to a person injured by their insured. [They will often spend much, much more than $5,000 on a small claim.]

I don’t expect my arguments [previously stated] will ever change your position. Especially since you are just trying to preserve your own career and retirement. But I don’t think it’s an either-or proposition. I believe that you could offer something more than $100 and still be true to your fiduciary responsibilities. [At this point, I am about to give up negotiating and file suit.]

So I proposed meeting in the middle at $500. And I get this response:

Mr. Anderson,
I don’t appreciate you giving me a lecture on my responsibilities, which are to my insured, not Typical Insurance. I think your approach is very unprofessional and borders harassment.

With that said, I will accept the demand of $500.00 and pay for the medical, but again I will certainly will be sending this on to our managers, due to the unprofessional remarks.

I thought my remarks were pretty innocuous, but I apologized that I had offended her. I actually regret that I had offended her since that’s not my style. I was merely trying to put myself in the adjuster’s shoes, understanding that the adjuster is just the messenger for management. What do you think? Were my comments unprofessional? Or borderline harassment?

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