Part 2: More Tips for Negotiating Hard Costs...
In Part 1 we discussed twelve negotiation tips to avoid a dog bite law suit and help you get a fair injury settlement without an attorney. We continue on this page with nine more tips and strategies to help in your negotiations with the insurance company's claims adjuster.
While you're recovering from your dog attack it's vitally important to keep receipts for all "out-of-pocket" expenses related to your injuries. These expenses can include: prescriptions, over the counter medications, bandages, doctor or hospital parking lot fees, and apportioned gasoline purchases.
You should also be accumulating copies of all of your medical charts, medical bills, and eventually medical narratives for your diagnosis and prognosis. Keeping your paperwork organized is essential to handling your dog bite insurance claim effectively.
During your recovery the medical bills will continue to grow. When attorneys are representing clients in your position the attorneys, in an effort to stop collection letters, harassing telephone calls, and the like send what are called "Letters of Protection" or "LOP's" to medical providers and other creditors.
Letters of Protection are legal agreements between attorneys and medical creditors. In return for creditors agreeing to wait to be paid without sending late notices and the like to their clients, the attorneys guarantee first payment to the medical creditors at the time the dog bite settlement funds are dispersed, even before paying any money to the client. Of course, when a lawyer is retained a client usually agrees to the LOP's as part of the contract.
Regrettably, a person representing herself may not be able to get medical creditors to agree to withhold billing until the dog bite case is settled. Although a non-attorney can attempt to have the medical creditors agree to LOP's, the likelihood of success is not probable. What destroys the possibility of agreement to non-attorney LOP's is the conflict of interest inherent in the distribution of the funds to the injured party.
As part of your dog bite settlement demand you should include any income you lost as a result of not being able to work due to your injuries. Contact your employer and request a letter confirming the amount of wages you lost from the date of the dog attack until the present. There is no format or special form for doing so. The information should be on your employer's letterhead, as detailed as possible and signed by the supervisor with the highest authority.
By this time you should have also compiled copies of all your medical bills. More importantly, the time has come for you to ask your treating physician for a Final Medical Narrative, including your original diagnosis and final prognosis.
The Diagnosis details the extent of your original injuries.
The Prognosis details the lasting effects and limitations of the injuries, combined with needed medical treatment then, now, and into the foreseeable future.
The Adjuster of course will speak with you and depending on individual personalities will play down the injuries as well as any offer of settlement. She will make you feel one way or another that your dog bite injuries are not so severe; that you seem able to return to work and have suffered no permanent injuries. The stitches she will say left no permanent scarring.
If you didn't know any better she was making it sound like you had no more than a bee sting! That's Adjuster School 101.
The following is a general formula for arriving at an injury settlement demand amount. Keep in mind that each dog bite case is different and factors such as psychological trauma, permanent scarring, disability, etc. can greatly increase the amount you should claim for compensation.
Always get a free initial consultation from an experienced attorney. They will make sure you aren't missing anything and advise you if filing a dog bite law suit may be necessary.
1) Add up all your medical bills. Then take that number and multiply it by four. That amount will be the compensation you are seeking for medical hard costs plus pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is an amount for the subjective pain you've already suffered and the amount of pain and suffering you may experience in the future.
2)Then total your out-of-pocket expenses, including: over the counter medicines, parking fees when seeing doctors, and even the cost of gasoline used to get to your medical appointments. That amount will not be multiplied, it will simply be added to the previous total.
3) Next you will add the total amount of your lost wages to the hard costs and out-of-pocket amounts. There should be no multiplication of the lost wages either.
Let's presume your actual medical bills have totaled $2,500. Your out-of-pocket expenses $500, and your lost wages to date are $3,000.
Your actual Settlement Demand will break down like this:
You should be prepared to communicate the demand to the claims adjuster in writing as your dog bite demand letter. Make sure the adjuster confirms by email or in writing her receipt of your initial demand of $13,500.
Now comes the most difficult part, negotiating pain and suffering (also called "Mental Anguish"). The issue of pain and suffering causes a breakdown in negotiations in over 75% of the personal injury cases filed in this country.
You'll most likely be entering into these settlement negotiations with a lack of legal negotiating experience. You may also have a lack of legal recourse available if you fail. Sure you can file a dog bite law suit in small claims court, but keep in mind that most small claims courts only handle cases up to $5,000.
If your bills are higher than that you must file your dog bite law suit in a higher court, which requires more legal expertise. Because states vary on the names of their respective higher courts it is almost impossible to tell you in which court you would have to file your dog bite law suit. In higher court cases there will be multiple hearings, depositions, interrogatories, and more. You will also incur expenses you would not have incurred in a lower court.
For example, hiring a court reporter to take the defendant's deposition can set you back about $2,000. Just to keep pace with the insurance company's attorneys you will have to hire your own doctor to testify about the extent of your injuries. There goes another $3,000 to $5,000.
One of the maxims you may hear is that pain and suffering equals one and a half to five times "special damages," or "hard costs." Although that has been the standard for the last thirty years, it still doesn't tell you what you must do to be compensated fairly for pain and suffering. If you can't convince the Adjuster you're entitled to financial recovery for pain and suffering, you may only walk away with enough money to cover your hard costs.
There is no book to turn to, no reference guide to refer to, and no calculator to use to determine pain and suffering in a dog bite injury case. It's one of the most difficult aspects of negotiations, and one in which the Adjuster usually has the upper hand. She can rationalize paying for the hard costs because they are quantifiable, but mental anguish is not objectively quantifiable.
The Adjuster may believe you suffered terribly as a direct result of her insured's actions and your dog bite wounds. While she may empathize with you, she will likely not agree with the amount you request for your pain and suffering.
About as close as you will come to a reference guide for the value of pain and suffering is researching court records, either at the courthouse, online, or both. You want to see the amount of money juries have awarded victims in dog attack cases similar to yours. Look at jury verdicts in your state, and especially your local counties. You'd be surprised at the disparity in dog bite lawsuit verdict amounts from one state to another, and even from one county to another.
Claims adjusters are paid to adjust and settle cases. You will have that fact in your corner. An adjuster who is unable to settle a case with a non-attorney will not be an adjuster very long. Inability to settle a case with an experienced personal injury attorney is more palatable to an adjuster's employer. No matter how skilled and experienced an adjuster may be there always remains the possibility of a tough negotiating, "take no prisoners" attitude attorney.
Knowing this can be part of your leverage. If the Adjuster refuses to compromise with you, you can almost always hire an attorney to file a dog bite law suit on your behalf. Knowing when to bend, and not allow the other side to break you is essential to any good negotiator, whether an attorney or not. You will need strong negotiating skills to convince the Adjuster to settle for an amount you can live with.
The Adjuster has what are called "Limits." Limits are predetermined amounts set by the Adjuster's supervisor before negotiations begin. You can be assured at first the Insurance Adjuster will not offer you anything close to her limits. She does not have to tell you her limits and usually won't, but it is within her discretion to tell you if she believes it will aid in settling the case.
If you and the Adjuster ever reach a stalemate and you are requesting more than the Adjuster's limits, you will only then learn her limits. She will finally say, "Look, my limit is $______. Any more and I have to go to my supervisor to get her to raise the limits for the case." Once you know the Adjuster's limits you're in a better negotiating position.
Never say anything which could be construed by the Adjuster as a final demand. The minute you indicate it's "Take it or Leave it," all discussions with the Adjuster will end. The next people you'll be speaking with will be the insurance company's lawyers. It is also not a good idea to be insulting or too abrasive. Being professional and staying calm will go a long way toward a higher dog bite settlement.
Now that you have a basic understanding about the process of negotiation and settlement of dog bite insurance claims, let's take a look at some typical dialogue between a claims adjuster and the victim of a vicious dog attack.
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