If you’re involved in a traffic collision in southern California, you’ll probably be filing an insurance claim and working with a claims adjuster. What exactly is the adjuster’s job? What do you need to know about filing and negotiating an accident claim? Keep reading, because everyone who drives in southern California may need these answers now or in the future.

California is an auto insurance “fault” state rather than a “no-fault” state, so if the other driver was at fault for the accident, you can file a claim against that driver’s insurance company. However, a determination of fault must be made before a motorist’s insurance company will pay a third-party claim.

If you sustain only vehicle damage, you may file a damage claim and negotiate for your auto repair costs with your own insurance company or with the at-fault driver’s company. You can have an attorney’s help – and you should, if the company is dishonest or unethical – but in most cases, most people find it expedient and convenient to deal directly and personally with the insurance company.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF A CLAIMS ADJUSTER?

Whether you are dealing with your own insurance company or making a third-party claim, you’ll be working with a claims adjuster who speaks for the company and negotiates settlements on its behalf. A claims adjuster will investigate the collision, assess your auto insurance coverage, and make a settlement offer.

Determine what your damage claim is worth before you contact the insurance company to file your claim, and set in your own mind the lowest amount that you can reasonably accept. Never reveal that lowest acceptable figure. When you first speak with a claims adjuster, emphasize your claim’s strong points.

The claims adjuster may respond at that time by indicating the items or factors in your damage claim that may be difficult for you to prove or support. If you sense that the adjuster is being candid and forthright with you – and you see his or her point – you may want to reconsider the amount you’re asking for.

WHAT’S INVOLVED IN MOST INSURANCE CLAIM NEGOTIATIONS?

It’s fine to engage in some back-and-forth give-and-take with the claims adjuster regarding the settlement amount – just don’t drop below that minimum amount that you are willing to accept. Most negotiations for vehicle damage claims involve three or four telephone conversations and at least one personal meeting with the adjuster. Don’t be stressed, intimidated, or hurried.

You want a claims adjuster to treat you fairly, so reciprocate fairness. Yes, some insurance companies will try to avoid paying you what your claim is worth, but most claims adjusters in southern California are honest insurance professionals, and most auto insurance companies pay most claims fully and quickly.

Claims adjusters have limited authority to negotiate settlements. They answer to senior adjusters, managers, and policyholders too, so the job can be stressful – something to remember if you reject the company’s first offer, which you probably should, and negotiate for a better settlement. Be respectful, know your facts, and be ready to prove that the amount the company has offered is insufficient.

HOW CAN YOU GET A CLAIMS ADJUSTER TO OFFER YOU MORE?

An adjuster is usually directed to settle a damage claim for a precise amount – or less – and may indicate to you that the first settlement offer is the most that the company will pay. That’s probably not actually true for most damage claims. If you can prove that your claim is worth substantially more, the adjuster can ask his or her manager to approve a higher figure.

And how can you prove the value of your damage claim? Your evidence might be photos of the vehicle both before and after the traffic collision, receipts for previous improvements to the vehicle and vehicle repairs, and repair or total loss estimates from qualified appraisers or certified mechanics.

A claims adjuster’s predominant concern is justifying the settlement amount to the company. When you provide all of the necessary facts and documentation regarding the accident and your vehicle’s damages, the negotiations go more smoothly, and you’ll be more likely in the end to get the settlement you need and deserve.

WHAT IS INSURANCE BAD FAITH?

Of course, that scenario assumes that you’re working with ethical and candid insurance professionals, and you probably are. But when an auto insurance company avoids its duty to its policyholders and other claimants, that insurance company is operating in bad faith, and you may have standing to bring a legal action against the company for “insurance bad faith.”

In the state of California, auto insurance companies may be operating in bad faith when they refuse to investigate or negotiate a claim, refuse to explain why a claim is being denied, refuse to investigate or pay a claim in a reasonable period of time, or make a final settlement offer that is considerably less than the true value of a claim.

An experienced San Bernardino personal injury attorney who routinely handles insurance bad faith cases can probably determine quite quickly if you are the victim of insurance bad faith practices. In this state, auto insurance policyholders and claimants have a legal right to be treated with good faith by automobile insurance companies.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE INJURED BY A NEGLIGENT DRIVER?

If the only damage you suffer in a California traffic accident is damage to your vehicle, everything you’ve read to this point has been for you. However – and this is important – if you sustain any physical injury or injuries in a collision because another driver was negligent, as soon as you’ve received medical attention, bypass the insurance company and take the matter directly to an experienced San Bernardino personal injury attorney.

Of course, you must notify your insurance company when you’ve been in an accident, but a notification is all you should provide at that point. If you’ve been injured, don’t sign any papers or documents that an auto insurance company provides, don’t admit or confess anything, and make no written or recorded statement. If you’re contacted by the insurance company, simply say that you need to consult first with your attorney.

After a traffic collision, if you have any concerns or questions about liability, insurance, or compensation, obtain sound advice and insights from an experienced San Bernardino personal injury attorney. And don’t cave in or surrender to intimidation or bad faith if you are negotiating an insurance claim. Get legal representation instead, and have an experienced injury attorney protect your rights and advocate on your behalf.