What Lawyers (and Clients) Need To Know About Alligators, Claims Adjusters and Marshmallows

[Every now and then, we share practice tips to help other lawyers win their personal injury and wrongful death cases. This is one of those posts. If you’re a lawyer, we hope you enjoy today’s tip!]

I took this picture of Lisa the alligator while in the bayou just outside of New Orleans. Our airboat had just come to a stop and she swam towards us through the muddy water and without a care in the world (our guide gave this little 8’ beauty the name for reasons that become apparent when you watch the short video below).

Lisa was the largest of 5 other gators that circled our airboat that morning. By the way she carried herself, you could tell she was clearly in charge of this section of the bayou.

When we threw chicken in to the water, Lisa and her friends would casually swim over, slowly open their mouths, grab and swallow the tasty treats. But when a marshmallow was tossed towards the gators, their excitement substantially increased. That little bobbing white dot on the brown colored bayou water was something special and the gators knew it.

Our guide referred to our long-tailed guests as “crack gators” because once these swimming scales tasted a marshmallow, it was game over. As he so eloquently stated, “Once they taste a marshmallow, they’re on the payroll for life but that didn’t necessarily mean they always show up for work.” After watching the tossed marshmallows quickly disappear over the next couple of minutes, I knew the true facts were a bit different.

These gators loved marshmallows and as soon as they heard our airboat arrive and stop at the far end of the bayou, it was game on! They were attracted by the sound of the large loud fan that propelled our boat through the bayou. I have a sneaky suspicion that these same gators “performed” on cue at least twice a day.

So What’s This Got To Do With Insurance Claims Adjusters?

Well, just like alligators, adjusters and insurance companies are what they are. It’s pretty simple to figure them out if you take a step back and look at the big picture.

When it comes to gators, if you’re not careful and fall in the water, you can lose your hand, arm or even your life. As for claims adjusters, if you jump in to an insurance claim unprepared, with the wrong game plan and with your eyes closed, chances are you’ll get eaten up alive by the well trained claims adjuster working for the big insurance company.

It’s not good or bad. It just is what it is.

Alligators are very primitive reptiles and when you enter the bayou you’re entering their turf. If you’re careless or inexperienced, there’s a good chance you’ll get hurt.

Truth be told, this doesn’t make the alligators bad reptiles. This is simply what evolution has them do. They look and act a certain way because they’re alligators. Stay on the airboat, respect their space, and feed them marshmallows from a distance and you will not have any problems. Let your hand hang over the side of the airboat like our guide did (watch the video) and you may not have all ten fingers, or even a hand, at the end of the day.

These facts don’t make the gators evil predators. And they certainly don’t make the alligators creatures we should hate or even avoid. But, these known propensities do mean we need to handle alligators a certain way to avoid losing a finger, hand, or being eaten alive.

Insurance Claims Adjusters

Just like gators, most insurance companies and their claims adjusters are just doing their job. Their job is to minimize how much money they pay out on any one particular claim. It’s also their job to maximize their company’s end of year corporate profits. Sometimes a claims adjuster will take it upon himself to intentionally put profits over people. I’ve seen the game of delay, delay and deny more than once. The good news is that for the most part, this is the exception and not the norm.

Now here’s the secret. If you know where the claims adjusters are and know how and when to feed them “marshmallows”, you’ll be able to control them from a distance and co-exist with this sometimes hard to live with species for many years to come.

Claims adjusters need information to analyze your claim. The more chicken and marshmallows (facts and details) you share with an adjuster, the better he or she will be able to evaluate your client’s injuries and damages.

But here’s the BIG warning for all our lawyer friends out there– you can’t make it too easy for either the alligator or adjuster to get their “marshmallows”.

After all, if you sprinkle an entire bag of marshmallows across the top of the bayou, the alligators will eat what they see, become full and get bored. When they’re done, they will eventually swim away. You’ve made it too easy for the gators. The party’s over.

The same approach works for claims adjusters. You need to slowly feed them the marshmallows in your case. As a lawyer, you need to toss each bit of information over to the claims adjuster in a way that not only keeps their attention, but also in a way that requires them to develop respect for the facts and value of your case.

Our guide was in control of the gators. He knew each of their names and knew exactly where to toss the marshmallows and how many to toss.

With claims adjusters, you need to keep things hot and heavy and keep them thinking about when they’ll get the next marshmallow. You need to make sure that for every marshmallow you toss their direction, you get something in return.

We knew after meeting “Lisa” and her friends, if we jumped in the water, we’d be in their “house” and their rules would control. With claims adjusters, if you start asking “how high” every time they demand that you jump, you’ll be empowering them to dictate how and when your case is resolved. Remember, you don’t work for them. You work for your clients.

Staying on top of the airboat is your safety net when visiting and feeding the gators. Not being afraid to litigate and try your case in front of a jury is your safety net when handling a personal injury or wrongful death case.

If your focus is litigating and trying the case, then you’ll have the proper attention of the claims adjuster and they’ll take you, your client, and your claim seriously. If you spend all your time jumping through hoops and trying to settle your case to avoid litigation and trial, the adjuster will smell blood. The outcome will not be pretty.

When dealing with alligators or claims adjusters, be smart and take control. Stay on the top side of the airboat and play by your rules and not theirs.

Every now and then toss them a tasty white marshmallow. They’ll appreciate your gesture, stay interested, and give you and your client the attention you deserve. Keep the adjuster’s interest by litigating your file and preparing for jury trial. Adjusters are not in control of what a jury may do so use this final bag of marshmallows as leverage to make sure you get what your client is entitled to.

Attorneys would be wise to remember this advice and approach. Doing so will help insure that by the time you get to the bottom of the marshmallow bag, you’ll have all the alligators or claims adjusters in your life right where you want them :-)

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