How To Write The Best Demand Letter To A Georgia Insurance Adjuster
Personal injury lawyers wish they could settle their client’s insurance claims for top value without filing a lawsuit. Unfortunately, insurance adjusters usually low-ball claims before they’re litigated. Therefore, many personal injury lawyers don’t put much effort into writing pre-suit demand letters. That’s a mistake. This article will explain how to write the best demand letter to a Georgia insurance adjuster.
A compelling demand letter increases the chances that a personal injury claim will settle pre-suit. Moreover, if the insurance adjuster unreasonably negotiates the claim, they might expose their employer (the insurance carrier) to a bad faith insurance claim.
Bad faith insurance claims are more valuable than typical personal injury claims. Bad faith claimants can recover punitive damages and attorneys’ fees in addition to the damages that personal injury victims normally recover at trial – compensation for general damages and special damages.
What Are The Requirements Of Georgia’s Demand Letter Statute?
O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1 is the Georgia statute that explains how to write a demand letter to a Georgia insurance adjuster. That statute sets out the conditions that a personal injury lawyer must include in any demand letter. Those conditions include:
- Time limit to accept the offer that cannot be less than 30 days.
- Payment amount.
- Released individual(s).
- Release type (limited or general).
- Released claims.
Additionally, the lawyer must include medical or other supporting records.
What Changes Were Made to Georgia’s Demand Letter Statute in 2021?
Payment Time Can’t Be Less Than 40 Days From Receipt Of Demand
The original version of O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1 was enacted back in 2013. Back then, personal injury lawyers could include additional terms that had to meet to validly accept the offer. For instance, lawyers could require the insurance adjuster to make timely payment after accepting the terms of the demand. That way, the lawyers’ clients wouldn’t have to wait a long time to receive their funds.
The Georgia Supreme Court approved the timely payment condition in the case of Grange Mutual Cas. Co. v. Woodard, 300 Ga. 848 (2017). The 2021 amendments to O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1 still permit a lawyer to include a time provision for payment after acceptance. But, it cannot be less than 40 days after the insurance adjuster receives the demand letter.
Personal Injury Lawyers Should Now Include A Proposed Limited Release With The Demand
Previously, O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1 also permitted a lawyer to require an adjuster to draft a settlement release that conformed to the demand conditions. That way, the lawyer would know that the release didn’t contain any hidden traps that were designed to harm their clients’ claims.
For instance, a lawyer could include a provision in the demand letter stating the insurance adjuster must draft a limited release (which would authorize the victim to pursue additional sources of insurance coverage). If the adjuster actually drafted a general release (which would prohibit the victim from pursuing additional sources of insurance coverage), the insurance adjuster’s actions would act as a rejection of the demand. Yim v. Carr, 349 Ga. App. 892 (2019); Pritchard v. Mendoza, 357 Ga.App. 283 (2020). As a result, the insurance carrier would be subject to a bad faith claim.
Insurance companies complained that the original version of O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1 was too favorable to personal injury victims. So, they recently persuaded the Georgia state legislature to rewrite the statute so it is much more favorable to insurance companies. Those changes apply to any O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1 demand letter that is sent out after July 1, 2021.
Now, if a demand letter includes a condition stating, for instance, that the insurer must produce a limited release, and the insurance company produces a general release, that will not constitute a counter offer or rejection of the demand letter. However, if a personal injury lawyer includes a proposed limited release with the demand letter and the insurance company insists that the victim sign a non-complying release, the insurer’s release will be considered a counter offer and rejection of the demand letter. Thus, personal injury lawyers should now include a proposed limited release in order to write the best demand letter to a Georgia insurance adjuster.
Personal Injury Lawyers Should Now Request A Statement Under Oath Regarding Coverage
The 2021 amendments to O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1 also permit personal injury lawyers to include a settlement condition that requires the insurer to provide a sworn statement that they have disclosed all liability and casualty insurance policies issued by the insurance company making payment. That provision is designed to punish unscrupulous insurance companies that try to hide umbrella/excess coverage policies from injury victims. However, it does not require them to confirm that their client, the insured, has disclosed all available sources of insurance coverage. So, the lawyer must get a separate coverage affidavit from the insured before resolving the claim.
The Best Demand Letter Will Persuade The Adjuster To Settle
Now that you understand the technical requirements of a demand letter to a Georgia insurance adjuster, it’s time to discuss the best way to write a demand letter to a Georgia auto insurer.
1. Attack the liability defenses.
Chances are, you’ve accepted the auto accident case because the police officer cited the at fault driver. Don’t assume that the adjuster will agree with the police officer’s citation. Put on your black hat and imagine that you’re the insurance adjuster. How would you defend this claim? Identify the weak spots of the liability case. Then, pull together the facts and documents that defeat those defenses. You want to show the adjuster that you wouldn’t have accepted this case unless liability was clear as day.
2. Highlight all proof in the medical records that the injuries were recent.
Car accident injury victims typically suffer a range of injuries that may impact their neck, back, head, shoulders and limbs. The adjuster will always argue that the injuries were pre-existing. Counter that argument by pointing out all objective findings of acute trauma in the medical records and imaging films. Get a copy of your client’s prior medical records to confirm that there wasn’t a prior history of similar injuries. Include those records with your demand package if they are helpful. You might even include an affidavit from your client’s treating physician to establish medical causation.
3. Provide all support that demonstrates that your client will need future medical treatment.
Some lawyers don’t evaluate whether their client will need future medical treatment when there is limited insurance coverage. That’s unwise. If your client is recommended for medical procedures that exceed the policy limits, the adjuster needs to factor that recommendation into their evaluation. If the adjuster may act in bad faith if they ignore the future medical treatment recommendation.
4. Itemize all medical bills and lost wages and include the documentary support.
Make sure that you track down every last bill so that you don’t settle the case for less than it’s worth. For instance, if your client was transported by ambulance to a hospital following the wreck, you shouldn’t just produce a copy of the hospital bill. You need to also produce a copy of the ambulance bill, the ER doctors’ bill, the radiologist’s bill, and the lab technician’s bill (in addition to all other treating provider bills). Attach copies of your client’s pay stubs if they’re claiming lost wages. Produce copies of your client’s tax returns if they’re claiming diminished earning capacity.
5. Cite all of the jury verdict research that demonstrates that your case is valuable.
Run a background check on each defendant that you might potentially sue. That way, you know where the lawsuit would be filed. If you’ve got a good venue, make sure you point that out to the adjuster. An injury case in a metro Atlanta county is more valuable than an injury case in a rural county.
What Can I Do If The Adjuster Rejects The Best Demand Letter?
If your demand letter is thorough and it also complies with the requirements of O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1, a reasonable insurance adjuster should carefully review it. Hopefully, they will pay your demand or fairly settle the claim. However, they usually offer too little.
If you wrote your demand letter using the above instructions, you should have a solid grasp of the case value. However, sometimes the more time you spend countering the potential defenses to your demand letter, the stronger you feel about your case.
Acknowledge your potential biases. Then, discuss the case with a colleague. Or, check the settlement database at your firm to see how you’ve resolved similar cases in the past. It might be a good idea to settle the case if the offer is a bit low, but there’s not much upside to litigating the case. Go ahead and file the lawsuit if there’s high upside to litigating the case.
However, if the offer is unreasonably low, then you need to evaluate whether the case has bad faith exposure. The best way to do that is by consulting with a lawyer that specializes in litigating bad faith insurance claims. The attorneys at Graham Scofield Injury Lawyers have recovered millions of dollars from auto insurance companies that acted in bad faith by rejecting an injured victim’s settlement offer.