What to Watch for When Dealing With the Insurance Company’s Attorney
When an accident happens and your insurance company hires an attorney, that attorney protects you, right? Probably not! Although this is a complicated area of law, the answer is probably not!
Remember: your insurance company is trying to save money and protect the insurance company’s bottom line! Often, this means that the attorney’s goal is in opposition to your best interests. An area where we frequently see this issue occurs when the other driver or their attorney is seeking what’s called “punitive damages.” This might happen if you got a ticket for driving recklessly or driving under the influence. Your insurance company will always follow the age-old advice, “To thine ownself be true.” If this happens, you are likely at risk of the opposing attorney seeking money FROM YOU, personally, not just from your insurance company! What’s worse? Your insurance company and “your” supposed attorney almost never let you know when this is happening! Read on for more information about this too-often ignored type of lawsuit:
Punitive damages can happen for lots of reasons, although allegations of reckless driving and drinking and driving are the most common. If the insurance company tells you that a lawsuit has been filed, you must ask the right questions. Is the other side asking for punitive damages? Was there an opportunity to settle without a lawsuit (which avoids the other side coming after you for money entirely)? Is there a possibility that the other side might ask for punitive damages later in the lawsuit? And- If we lose, will you cover the punitive damages portion for me (get this answer in writing, for example by email!)
If the opposing attorney convinces the judge, during a lawsuit for the accident, that they can ask a jury for punitive damages, you’re in a very dangerous situation that you might not even know about! Your insurance company should let you know this is happening—it’s a big deal to you, right? And it might change how you want the case handled! But your insurance company is likely never to let you know when it’s happening!
This situation usually creates what’s called a “conflict of interest”: the insurance company may decide it’s worth the gamble to go to trial. But it’s in your best interest to settle without trial, avoiding the potential of punitive damages.
Another common situation where your insurance company has a conflict of interest—a situation that puts them in a position where helping themselves save money puts you at risk—is when the other side has made a “statutory offer”—a special type of settlement offer that goes through the judge, rather than just the usual informal settlement negotiations. A statutory offer can lead to a situation where, if you are found liable for the accident at trial, the other side may come after you for money in addition to the maximum amount your insurance policy has pay by law. And again, most insurance companies won’t even let you know when this situation happens! So now, your insurance company is betting against you—they might want to take the case for trial when settling means that you don’t have any personal risk. Isn’t that why we purchase insurance in the first place? Most people are shocked to hear that their insurance companies almost never lets them know when they’re in danger of this situation!
There are many other ways that your insurance company may have a conflict of interest—where their best interest is pitted against your best interest—but you’re likely never to know when it’s happening. You may not want to have the case go to trial—but your insurance company negotiates whether to settle and makes the call about going to trial.
If you think this situation may be happening (or about to happen) to you, speak to an attorney—one who is actually an attorney with your best interests at heart.
The attorney for your auto accident case is really an attorney for the insurance company. The attorney for the other driver isn’t legally allowed to speak to you, but other plaintiff’s personal injury attorneys can. At Bell & Pollock, our law firm will first and foremost check to make sure that we don’t have any conflicts of interest of our own—more than you can count on from an attorney for an insurance company! if we represent the other driver, for example, we will tell you that up-front. Once we’ve ensured that we can represent you, and ONLY YOU, we’ll give you a free consultation to advise you and tell you whether we can help. Call Denver Car Accident Attorneys Bell & Pollock to discuss your options and whether you may need an attorney- one who is actually representing you.