Insurance Company Woes
April 26, 2005 7:29 PM   Subscribe

I am being sued for damages related to an auto accident. The lawyer from the insurance firm is representing my case. Should I get my own lawyer?

About six years ago I hit a pedestrian while driving. At the time I was a minor on my parents' insurance. Due to the conditions (raining, at night) and situation (pedestrian running across 4 lane highway, no lighting) I was obsolved of criminal charges by the police at the time. Later on the guy decided to sue me for damages in civil court. It has escalated and is definitely going to trial. They are asking for $500,000, $250,000 of which is covered by my insurance. The insurance lawyer seems nonchalant but the insurance company has not settled and trial date has been posted for next month. Should I get my own lawyer to represent my interests, rather than those of the company? Any other insights on the situation would be appreciated.
posted by sophist to Law & Government (12 answers total)
I certainly would - your insurance company's interest is to minimize their exposure. To the extent your interests coincide with theirs & the conditions of your policy coverage, they'll look after you. Your own lawyer is paid to look after you specifically.
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:45 PM on April 26, 2005

Best answer: Man. You should at least go talk to a lawyer with an eye on hiring him/her. The real thing to be concerned about is a situation where your interest diverges from that of the insurance company, but you seem to be in the same boat for the most part; if their lawyer accomplishes anything AT ALL for the insurance co (that is, obtains a damage award less than 250K), you will also be prevented from having to pay anything.

Of course, one aspect the insurance co doesn't care so much about is your reputation; if you have any interest in being completely free of a negative civil judgment, if you're planning to go into a profession like medicine or law where it would be a relevant part of your accreditation process, then the company lawyer might be a really bad choice, as he/she may be completely willing to settle for a fixed amount that pleases the company.

And, 6 years?! How long has this suit been dragging on? I think the statute of limitations on tort in California is 2 years. Sheesh. Of course that's only for commencement of the action.
posted by rkent at 8:04 PM on April 26, 2005

No... he, being a chosen lawyer of your Insurance Angency, WILL NOT let you down.

Things in the insurance business are too comeditive right now... they can't afford bad publicity by providing crappy lawyers.
posted by bamassippi at 8:07 PM on April 26, 2005

No... he, being a chosen lawyer of your Insurance Angency, WILL NOT let you down.

Yeah, and court appointed lawyers won't let you down because the ACLU is breathing down their necks...


Get to a private attorney and receive at least a quick consultation.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 8:15 PM on April 26, 2005

What SeizeTheDay said, and ignore bamassippi. Every traffic lawyer I know will offer a free consult over the phone; you're doing yourself a grave disservice to not take advantage of that. Ask around and find a sharp lawyer NOT associated with your insurance company. Just to talk, at the very least.

Guaranteed you'll feel better about your understanding of the situation.
posted by mediareport at 8:52 PM on April 26, 2005

Best answer: Keep in mind that if you retain your own counsel, you will have to pay by the hour. The average attorney doing insurance defense work is going to bill between $100 and $200 an hour. Your insurance company is contractually obligated to provide you with counsel and to pay up to the policy limit. That being said, you are the client, not the insurance company. I suggest you take a little more control of your defense and push your attorney for more information about settlement offers, how strong the plaintiff's case is, etc. Any settlement offer is going to have to be approved by you and your insurance company's claims rep. However, it is possible that you might be able to settle on your own, without informing the insurance company, and then try to get indemnification from your insurance company based on your policy language. This is the least desirable course, and it is much better for everyone to get along. If the attorney handling your case is nonresponsive, try to speak to his or her supervising partner. Also, try to talk to your claims rep and see what has been going on. As for where I get all this, I am a lawyer, but more importantly, my girlfriend is a lawyer with an insurance defense practice.
posted by Bezuhin at 8:54 PM on April 26, 2005

The insurance company is going to try to get this thing down to less than 250k. If they don't think they can get it less than 250k then they are wasting their time, right? If they get it down to les than 250k, then you're off the hook for everything over the limit, and more or less completely off the hook.

Talk to a lawyer, get a free consult, but I don't think you need to hire one and pay out the nose for something the insurance company is taking care of for you for free.

Remember, they're looking out for your best interests as they are trying to get their portion down and to get their portion down they need to nullify your portion.
posted by pwb503 at 9:46 PM on April 26, 2005

Be really careful of a negative civil judgement - i.e. the insurance company negotiating a settlement. This happened to me - in spite of all innocence on my part, and no case to speak of by the person suing my business (people do that you know, make up bs and sue a business) - my insurance company offered a settlement on the grounds that the cost of fighting the case was exceeding the cost of the settlement.
My memory may be off, but I recall that I had no choice in accepting or declining the settlement (unless I wanted to fork over thousands of my own $ to fight it).

At the very least you should spend a little money and time finding out whether your interests are being protected. What are the rammifications of a settlement? Are you required to agree to one, Etc. I would stay away from the personal injury type lawyers (or else next thing you know, you'll be suing the pedestrian for who knows what ).

And I wonder - have depositions been taken yet? Until then, neither side will have any idea how 'good their case is.'
posted by LadyBonita at 10:20 PM on April 26, 2005

Best answer: IANAL - and from what I can tell, no one else in this thread is either. So take everyone's advice with a few big grains of salt.

Don't listen to anyone that tells you the insurance company is looking out for your interests "by default" because they are trying to ge the settlement/judgment under $250K. It may sound logical, but the only "by default" here is that, since you aren't a lawyer, by default you don't know whats going on.

Right now, you are in the middle of a court case in which your interests are being represented by a "nonchalant" lawyer who is being paid by (and thus represents the interests of) someone else. If a judgment goes against you, it could have financial and legal reprecussions that would last for years.

If I were in your shoes, I would definitely talk to a lawyer about the case, to find out how exposed I am, what different types of judgment or settlement might mean for me, and whether or not the insurance company's lawyer can be trusted to look out for my interests. It may cost a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars; I would do it anyway. Weighed against $250K and my reputation, that is a small price to pay.
posted by googly at 6:18 AM on April 27, 2005

I was sued for $85k for a very minor accident (no one got hurt, the lady that sued me was faking it). Eventually my insurance company settled for $14k. So the $500k figure will probably come down a lot before they'll settle, to the point where you won't pay a dime. If it does go to court, the person suing you will have an even tougher job to get any money, so I bet they'll avoid going to court at all costs.
posted by knave at 6:40 AM on April 27, 2005

You should see a lawyer. You should ask a lot of questions. Do you have assets to protect? Since you were a minor and covered by your parents' insurance, do your parents have liability? Does their car ins. co. also cover their home? (Homeowner's insurance may provide blanket liability.) It's better to pay several hundred $ to a lawyer than to be unpleasantly surprised in court. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 11:23 AM on April 27, 2005

Since you are being sued, your insurance company will be liable for damages up to your policies maximum, and they will be doing everything in their power to make sure the monetary amount that you and they owe will be as small as they can possibly make it.

I got into an accident and offered to take 30% of the fault/expenses. The other party wanted to go to court.
I never saw anything about it, I never talked to a judge, and I made 2 recorded phone statements to MY insurance company, and I never talked to the other party, their lawyer, or their insurance company.
At the end of it all, the lawyer working for my insurance company convinced the court that I was 0% at fault.

On the other hand, if you were being sued as an independent person BY an insurance company, you would have reason to panic.
posted by whoda at 12:11 PM on April 27, 2005

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