I just hung up with an adjuster from Erie after a settlement call. It is difficult to settle a personal injury claim with an adjuster who does not — or pretends not to — understand the law.
One thing I can say about Erie is that the Erie adjusters – particularly in larger cases – are pretty sophisticated. Agree or disagree with them, they are usually very sharp. Their defense lawyers – Erie relies on Rollins Smalkin a lot in the Baltimore area and McCarthy Wilson throughout much of the rest of Maryland – are very competent and easy to deal with on personal injury claims. So when I see an Erie defendant, I expect a worthy but reasonable adversary.
Why Erie Annoyed Me Today
The call was for settlement on an uninsured auto accident case. The client lost $48,000 in wages and $71,000 in medical bills. The Erie adjuster does not question the legitimacy of the wages or the medical care rendered. Instead, she wanted to know whether my client had been paid for the lost wages and the amount of his medical liens. She called these “the big unanswered questions in the case.”
I explained that none of these issues were relevant at trial under Maryland’s collateral source rule. The Erie adjuster responded that she thought that we were not talking about trial value, more so, about settlement. Somehow, I thought these two things were related.
I think the adjuster in this case (who I know pretty well) knew full well what the Maryland law is. She just chooses to ignore it. Adjusters want to do the whole “I know what the law says, but let’s be honest and practical here” routine. Well, let’s be practical here. Let’s throw in the attorneys’ fees that my client cannot claim as losses, although we know it is a part of the calculus. Let’s also throw in that your offer is clearly not justice. There is no way the adjuster would take the $225,000 she offered in this case as “equal justice” for what my client endured if she was given the choice between that money and the accident and injuries and suffering that ensured.
2019 Update: Settling Injury Claims with Erie Insurance in Maryland
Erie generally writes larger insurance policies than the average insurance company. So, all things being equal, Erie is a good draw in serious injury and wrongful death cases for that reason alone.
I prefer dealing with Erie versus over dealing with the players with larger market share in Maryland. Erie is preferable to State Farm, Allstate, GEICO and Progressive. So, relatively speaking, they are easier to deal with on insurance claims. (I’m not sure why but I feel like we see less of Erie in 2019 than we did when this post was originally written.)
My big problem with Erie is that most of their reasonableness does not come until AFTER a lawsuit is filed. Many of their adjusters, like the one discussed above, have very pie in the sky view about how these cases should be valued; that a Maryland jury simply would not share. I have filed suits in a lot of Erie cases, where the client’s demands increase as time goes on.
Example Case of Erie Overplaying Its Hand
One young woman who was very badly injured from the negligence of an Erie insured told me she would be happy with $300,000 which would pay her medical bills and allow her to finish school. I told my client point blank that the trial value of the case was much higher. If I remember correctly, Erie offered $75,000. We filed suit and pursued litigation. My client’s demands changed dramatically because she resented having her life examined with a fine-toothed comb, as Erie’s defense lawyer was doing. Ultimately the case settled for $750,000.
[Funny footnote to this case. My client admitted that she tried white water rafting but her injuries made it impossible. The lawyer came to the mediation with a video. Oh no. That can’t be good. They have my client running the Baltimore Marathon, right? Nope. Just a picture of the rapids, that actually looked so tame, I thought I should give it a try with my young kids.]
This summarizes the problem with Erie. They do not try many cases, because they have good senior claims adjuster who understand how personal injury accident claims in Maryland should be valued. But it takes too long to get to these people. So it creates work more for everyone because Erie’s low pre-suit offers often make clients file suit who would rather not.
This commentary applies to dealing with Erie when you are suing or bringing a claim against their insureds in a car or truck accident case. By many accounts, Erie is much easier to deal with when you are making a first part home insurance claim or other claims that is not a motor tort.
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