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Is your insurance company denying, delaying or devaluing your claim in bad faith?

After a car accident, you've done everything right: you filed the police report, notified your insurance agent and went to the doctor. You had to spend your own money to fix the car, putting stress on finances during an already stressful period of recovery. Yet, your insurance company still hasn't made a settlement offer.

"My office receives more complaints about auto insurance than any other type of coverage," says Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler in introducing the state's auto insurance consumer's guide. All Washington drivers carry auto insurance by law, yet many aren't getting the coverage they expect in return.

Why? Many insurance companies use tactics to reduce the amount of money they pay claimants, including delaying offers, devaluing claims or denying claims outright.

Delay

A study by the American Association for Justice finds insurance companies intentionally wait until you're most vulnerable, making you more likely to grab the first offer instead of getting what your coverage warrants. Waiting it out wears you down, and insurers hope you'll grow impatient and take the settlement instead of spending hours on the phone, digging up records, and consulting doctors and mechanics. With the bills mounting, your agent is waiting until desperation hits.

Devalue

Another tactic is devaluing your claim. Your car was worth $10,000 before the accident, and you've put $2,500 to repair it while waiting for your settlement. Meanwhile, you missed two weeks of work and another $2,500 in earnings.

When the company makes an offer, they'll account for the vehicle at the time of the crash, disregarding the additional costs of the accident. The longer the delay, the more significant the devaluation.

Deny

Denial of claims is common-sometimes accidental and sometimes due to a misunderstanding of coverage, but also because insurance companies are watching their bottom line and may have a "deny when in doubt" policy. If denied, the best approach is to consult a lawyer to maximize the settlement and to get the insurance company's attention instead of causing further delay, and further stress.

Payment of insurance premiums is meant to cover costs when the unforeseen occurs, to offer security when you're most vulnerable. Dealing with delays and unsatisfactory offers will cost you time, and nobody wants to contest a low offer after an already lengthy delay, circling the drain through the process a second time. Hiring legal representation can speed up the process and help you get all the compensation you are entitled to by law.

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