Most people, when faced with the reality that hiring a lawyer means giving up one-third of their claim, will settle directly with ICBC. So, how could it possibly make financial sense to involve a lawyer? What magic; what spell could a lawyer cast on the insurance company to cause the offer to increase enough to justify paying one third of the claim to the lawyer?
What brilliant mastery of negotiation could bring about such results? It has nothing to do with negotiation. It has nothing to do with brilliance. The insurance company has standard, low ball, offers. A claims adjuster will make the standard, low ball offer with a straight face, after working to gain the trust of the claimant.
They have a leg up in gaining that trust because they are an arm of the provincial government.
Threatening to hire a lawyer will get you nowhere. A large number of claimants will make that threat. The insurance company knows that only a small number will actually carry through. Claim after claim gets settled without the insurance company paying anything in legal defence costs, for a fraction of what the claim is worth.
Cha-ching; cha-ching; cha-ching.
I keep statistics so that I can prove my point. Before I let ICBC know that I’m involved on a file, I ask my clients to go to the claims adjuster to get their last, best offer. I record that number so that I can compare it with the end result. In absolutely every case, the injured victim has ended up with more in his or her pocket, after paying one-third of the claim to me in fees, than ICBC’s last, best offer.
In most cases the result in my client’s pocket is some multiple of that last, best offer. I want to be very clear that my results are not special. Any competent personal injury lawyer would have the same results. The clearest illustration of my point came to pass over this past week.
The stage was set a few months ago when a local health care professional consulted me about her claim, being clear that she didn’t want a long, drawn out affair. I met with her at the Pheasant & Quail Pub one evening before a choir practice, and got up to speed on her case.
The claims adjuster had offered her $15,000. She wanted a number to take back to the claims adjuster. I gave her one, lower than what I thought her claim was worth to account for the fact that she would be avoiding my one-third contingency fee. It was $40,000. As I expected, the adjuster didn’t budge and I was hired.
As always happens when I am hired, the file was allocated to a litigation adjuster. She called me up last week to discuss the file. She stopped me when I started talking high claim values and told me about the note in the file that my client had been told by a lawyer to ask for $40,000.
I told her about my meeting at the Pheasant & Quail, that the $40,000 number was a quick and dirty settlement suggestion with no legal fees. I don’t know what came over me, but I told her that I wouldn’t take any fees for my services if she was able to bring an offer at that $40,000 figure.
She made the offer within 25 minutes, and the file settled. Perhaps I should have made ICBC pay for their low-ball settlement position of $15,000. Perhaps I should have worked up the file to end up at the $60,000 or so figure it would have gotten to. I rationalized my decision on the basis that I had really done very little on the file, and I’d be saving my client a couple years of putting up with me before ending up with approximately the same result.
The thing is, I also saved ICBC tens of thousands of dollars in the settlement and legal expense. It was bittersweet, but it was a victory for justice that proved, yet again, the way ICBC works.
Published August 22, 2010 in the Kelowna Capital News