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Sometimes the deal that’s offered is not the deal to take

I’ve never been to Mexico. The world of the all-inclusive sandy beach holiday has eluded me so far.

Imagine, all you can eat and drink and all the sun you can soak in for one low, low price. I hear there are markets in Mexico where craftspeople sell their wares to tourists, and that the prices of goods at those markets are always negotiable.

Here, we see a price on something and that’s the end of the matter. The question is whether or not to buy it, not how much can be knocked off that price through negotiation.

For most of us, there is no concept of offering something less than the sticker price. It is only for big ticket items like cars and houses that we attempt a bit of negotiation.

Even then, our negotiations are typically quite pathetic in comparison to what I understand goes on in Mexico.

We might offer $10,000 less than the asking price of a home or ask for reduced financing for the purchase of a vehicle. (Perhaps a better definition of the word pathetic is a columnist writing about Mexican negotiation who has never been there.)

In Mexico, you see a sticker price and it apparently gives you very little indication about what the vendor’s bottom line price might be.

A Canadian sucker like me, asking for a 10 percent discount on the sticker price, might end up paying three times what the item is worth. Fortunately for our mental health, we have no idea of how much we overpaid.

We leave thinking: “Wow, am I ever great? I just saved $50 by negotiating the price of that handmade Mexican blanket down to $450!”

Meanwhile, the vendor is having a couple of celebratory shots of tequila because he or she purchased the blanket from a local crafts person for only $15. That sticker price, for our culture, is mighty powerful stuff.

Any reduction in that sticker price feels like a victory, even though we have no idea what the item might be worth. We hear about a 50 per cent-off sale and we run out to buy stuff that we don’t need, excited about how much money we’re saving.

If you are familiar with the typical focus of this blog, you may be wondering what all of that could have to do with personal injury claims. You face a Mexican style negotiation when you look at settling a personal injury claim.

The insurance adjuster tosses out a number to you and if you are typical of people in our culture, you will take that “sticker” price just like you would take the sticker price of an automobile.

You start thinking about how you might be able to get an extra five per cent or 10 per cent. Heck, if you manage to negotiate a doubling of the offer you have a little party and congratulate yourself for being so amazing.

The problem is that insurance adjusters are playing a Mexican negotiation game, not a Canadian one. They might well offer you $3,500 on a $45,000 claim. They do it with a straight face, too.

When you succeed in getting the adjuster to double the offer to $7,000, you quickly accept and walk away happy. You might even feel sorry for the adjuster for risking his or her job by being so generous.

Little do you know you’ve just contributed to the insurance company’s hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, though, right?

Does it matter that you’ve just been taken advantage of? I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs at a time when they were very much the underdog.

Rooting for the underdog has always been my thing. When people are taken advantage of, it makes my skin crawl. Perhaps that’s why I, and so many others like me, decided to become a lawyer.

Published November 30, 2008 in the Kelowna Capital News