Do I Need a Lawyer for Car Insurance Dispute?

This video features Mark Choate, a Criminal Law attorney based in Alaska.

Alaska Car Accident Attorney Mark Choate

Video Transcript:

Mark Choate:

He's riding his motorcycle really fast; he has his friend video and put it up on Facebook. Well, when the insurance company discovered that, we were this close to settling.

Rob Rosenthal:

If you've got a case to settle with an insurance company, is that something you can handle yourself? And should you do that? Well we're going to find out right now, because that's what we're going to ask the lawyer.

Hi again, everybody, I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com, and here to answer our questions is Alaska attorney Mark Choate who has many years of experience with helping people who have been injured because of someone else's negligence.

Before we get to Mark, I want to remind you, if you want to ask questions about your specific situation, all you have to do is head over to askthelawyers.com, click the button at the top of the screen that says, “Ask a Lawyer”, and it'll walk you through the process there. Mark, it's good to see again. Thank you for helping us out today.

Mark Choate:

You're welcome. Good to see you.

Rob Rosenthal:

So let's start off with the two questions I posed up front. First of all, can someone handle negotiations with the insurance company all by themselves?

Mark Choate:

Well, the insurance companies would like to convince you to do that, and the reason for that is because you generally are not someone who's experienced in either what the damages are that you may have that you can claim, and second, you're not somebody who negotiates regularly with insurance companies. So often people think they can do it successfully, but they really can't.

Rob Rosenthal:

So I'm guessing the answer to should they do it themselves, in your opinion, would be a big no.

Mark Choate:

If they want a little bit of money quickly, they can do it. But if you want to get a fair value for your injuries, you're not going to do that on your own. It just won't happen.

Rob Rosenthal:

Well, Mark, I see commercials all the time telling me that insurance companies are on my side; they're looking out for me. Do they have my best interest at heart if I'm injured?

Mark Choate:

They don't. The interest they have at heart is getting your premiums, getting your payments. The moment you have a claim, you become—to the insurance company—basically the enemy. They don't treat you any differently than anybody else who they see as adverse or against them. The first thing they'll do is they'll look through your Facebook and your social media to try to find ways to show that you weren't hurt, to look for ways to get out of coverage, for ways to not cover your claim. And then if you have a valid claim to look for ways to minimize it. That's what they do. It's their standard practice, and they're very, very good at that.

Rob Rosenthal:

So their goal is to pay as little money as possible.

Mark Choate:

As we say with insurance policies, the front page giveth—tells you what they will pay—and the back page taketh away, they'll find every way they can to not pay you.

Rob Rosenthal:

Does it make a difference if I'm talking about dealing with my own insurance company as opposed to the insurance company, say, of the person who's fault it was that I was injured? Does that matter?

Mark Choate:

That's a great question, but sadly it doesn't. The moment you make a claim, they treat you as if you're adverse, and that can create some possibilities in cases when your own insurance company places their economic interest above yours. But generally speaking, that's what they're going to do; they're going to always look to find a way to get out of coverage. And if there is coverage to find ways to limit it and to find ways to argue that they shouldn't have to pay you or pay you as little as possible.

Rob Rosenthal:

So then your advice is to contact an attorney who has experience in this area and can help me?

Mark Choate:

I don't think there’s any question that you want a lawyer who knows what they're doing and who is going to be your advocate; the person that knows the law, knows how insurance companies work, can investigate the facts, can talk to your doctors, can evaluate what your injuries are, and put that together in a claim. The big issue with finding a lawyer that knows how to do that, is there are lots of, I would call them “mills”—meaning firms that do tons of advertising but really just process cases for low value. But you want someone who knows what they're doing and will be motivated and will get the best value for your case that can be gotten.

Rob Rosenthal:

And is it important, Mark, to find somebody like yourself who is a trial attorney and who is prepared to take the case all the way to trial if necessary?

Mark Choate:

In my view, yeah. I think that beyond some experience negotiating, I don't ever consider lawyers to be better negotiators than insurance adjusters, because for insurance adjusters, that's what they do, eight, nine hours a day every day. So they're great at negotiating.

What lawyers have is that one, we know the law, and two we can get in depth and understand your case, and often because we have a financial incentive because we work on contingency fees frequently, we want to get the highest value for you. We can put a lot of time into it—more than the adjuster. There are real important reasons why a lawyer makes a difference. For me, the insurance companies always know that we'll try the case. If I take a case, I'll take it to trial. I'll spend the money. I'll do the work. And that is why I think lawyers that try cases get better values, because they know that at the end of the day they're going to court, and they have to decide, “Do we want to pay a bunch of money to a defense lawyer and still end up having to pay the plaintiff?” So I think hiring a trial lawyer, and that means someone that does trials, is the best way that you'll get the best value for your injuries.

Rob Rosenthal:

That makes sense. So what if someone's thinking, “Well, I'll do a little bit of talking with the insurance company. I'll try to do the negotiation on my own, and then if I'm not happy with the way it's going down the road, then I'll call an attorney.” Is that a bad idea? Can they end up hurting themselves if they do that?

Mark Choate:

Well, you know, they can. You have to remember that everything that you say to the insurance company will be used against you. It's like the police show up and they suspect you of a crime, the insurance company always suspects you of a crime, which is that you're trying to get something you don't deserve. So you may say things like, “Well, I had a prior injury 20 years ago, but I got better.” And they'll write in their file, “Prior injury. Maybe their problems aren't caused by this crash, they're caused by the prior injury.” Or if you say, “I really need the money, because I can't make my mortgage payment, or I can't pay rent, or the doctor is hounding me for money.” They'll use that because they know that you've got some financial incentive to take a little money now, rather than more money later. You can often say things that are just personal, because these insurance adjusters are taught to be nice to you on the phone. You might start saying, “I'm having a tough time. My wife and I are having difficulties.” Well guarantee that becomes a defense, which is, “Your stress here isn't because of the crash that broke both legs; it’s because you and your wife are having fights.” And all of this is used against you.

So once we start a case, we ask our clients to stop using social media, as hard as it is. We ask them to not communicate to others, because you can talk to your brother-in-law and your brother-in-law may get interviewed by an insurance adjuster, and your brother-in-law might say, “You know, he was having work problems before this ever started.” And you never know what happens, but the insurance company wants to hear one thing, which is, it's a bad claim; you want too much money; you weren't really hurt; it's somebody else's responsibility, not theirs. That's why you don't talk to them.

Rob Rosenthal:

Do people need to be careful what they say to EMTs that respond, or to the nurses or doctors that are treating them? If you say something to the EMT like, “I don't know what happened.” Or, “It might be my fault,” or something like that. Could that come back to haunt you?

Mark Choate:

Oh yeah. Yeah, it does. I wouldn't be paranoid about it; you want to give accurate information, but generally speaking, you don't want to be talking about fault. It is hard because you're in a stressful, traumatic situation, but I would say that the concerns I have are more people talking to somebody else; where you talk to someone at a party. or a friend, and then the friend doesn't become a friend. Or you know, someone says, “You know, I really think that Joe is trying to get too much money.” They make a decision about your injuries, and they don't know you at all. So it's important to control the communication.

I had a case once with a guy who had significant injuries, and about ten months after the crash, he was riding his motorcycle, and it was one of the days he felt better. He's riding his motorcycle really fast; he has his friend video and put it up on Facebook. Well, when the insurance company discovered that we were this close to settling. It took me another six months to get the case to settle. We still ultimately got the money, and got a good value for it, but that one video convinced the insurance company, “He looks fine to us. He's having a great time. Matter of fact, he's a little bit of a hellraiser riding his motorcycle at high speed down the road.” So it's important to be careful.

Rob Rosenthal:

Lots of great information as always. Mark, thank you for making some time to answer our questions. I appreciate it.

Mark Choate:

You're welcome.

Rob Rosenthal:

That's going to do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer. My guest has been Alaska attorney Mark Choate. I want to remind you, if you'd like to ask questions about your specific situation, head over to askthelawyers.com, click the button at the top of the page that says “Ask a Lawyer”, and you can ask away right there.

Thanks for watching I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers™.

Disclaimer: This video is for informational purposes only. In some states, this video may be deemed Attorney Advertising. The choice of lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

AskTheLawyers

© 1999-2022 AskTheLawyers.com™

Terms and Conditions / Privacy Policy /
Report an Issue

Legal Disclaimer: This website is for informational purposes only. Use of this website does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Information entered on this website is not confidential. This website has paid attorney advertising. Anyone choosing a lawyer must do their own independent research. By using this website, you agree to our additional Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.