Who Insures and Employs a Negligent Driver Makes a Difference for Your Claim

In a previous bog post, we talked about the critical importance played in your claim by the “venue”: the county in which the lawsuit will be filed. Though less important to overall personal injury case value than venue is, the specific identity of the insurance company (in the case of a car accident) or the trucking company (in the case of a tractor trailer collision) is another one of those variables that, as a matter of logic, shouldn’t be as big a deal is it is. After all, if a person is injured, why should his or her compensation depend upon what insurance company the other driver decided to buy coverage from? Why should the speed of person’s recovery for his injuries depend upon whether he was hurt in an accident with trucking company A instead of Trucking Company B?

The answer of course is that it should not matter. For various reasons, though, it does matter: a lot. Insurance companies vary from one to another in their approach to the claims business. Some companies’ business model is to make reasonable offers early in the process, with the goal of avoiding lawsuits and expensive defense legal fees. Other companies focus on defending aggressively, with a goal of beating claimants’ down, dragging out the claims process, and paying less than the case is worth. Under this approach, the insurance company is willing to pay its lawyers handsome fees to drive down the cost of the case.

A classic example of the latter approach in the car accident setting is State Farm, a huge company which does a ton of business in South Carolina and elsewhere. We obviously have to acknowledge, up front, that Traywick & Traywick has no direct, personal knowledge of State Farm’s business model. But, we can tell you that it did not take but one or two of our seven years doing personal injury work to recognize their approach to claims: State Farm will fight to the bitter end, offering nothing or very close to nothing, on smaller car wreck claims. They are willing to take cases to trial, and they are willing to spend more on their own lawyers than it would take to settle with you. Think about that last part for a second: this insurance company evidently is fully willing tolose money on a given claim, if that is what it takes to discourage claimants more generally.

On the trucking company side, the big question is whether the company you are dealing with is a major player—UPS, FedEx, Swift, Schneider National—or a smaller local carrier. What we find in general is that the larger the trucking company, the more likely it is that your claim will be handled in a fair, reasonably efficient manner. Keep in mind: there always are exceptions. But, on the whole, a smaller company will act more like a straight insurance company—denial of every claim, delay in getting it resolved, dragging things out—than a larger motor carrier.

There is a very specific reason for this tendency: large trucking companies typically are self-insured, either partially or completely. Self-insured companies have a greater say in the way that their claims are handled. These companies are not in the claims business: they understand that claims happen, and they typically would prefer to get them paid, if the plaintiff and his or her lawyer are willing to reasonable. They are in the transportation business, with a business image to protect, and when a claim comes in they want to shut it down so that they can get back to transporting freight.

Smaller trucking companies act just like insurance companies because, frankly, an insurance company is pulling the strings. Small companies are not self-insured, typically, and so they have no say whatsoever in how the claim is handled, or whether it is paid. The owner of a small trucking company may feel awful about the injury or death that one of his drivers caused, and he may want just to pay the family, say he’s sorry, and get back to hauling freight. But it’s not his call. If the insurance company wants to fight it out; if the insurance company wants to drag the plaintiff through the mud; if the insurance company knows it will have to pay but wants to wait three years before doing so, that is what will happen.

It is a strange system, but that’s the way it works. For the public, the key is making sure that it hires lawyers who understand these dynamics, who can advise clients intelligently on how the identity of the insurance company or trucking company is going to affect strategy, and who can lay out options for the client to give input as to what will work for them. An ancillary point to keep in mind is that volume shops–television lawyers, frankly–are all about volume: individualized attention to client needs, and receptiveness to client input, are frequent casualties in that setting.

Traywick & Traywick has the experience and the smarts to work through these issues—and every other that may arise—as we seek compensation for you. And, with TLO you can deal with either of our lawyers–Ben or David Traywick–directly, rather than being shuffled off to a paralegal or “case manager” (whatever that means). We are real lawyers, doing real legal work, for real people.

Call us any time for a free consultation- a lawyer is available to discuss your case.


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