When Your Insurance Company Says ‘Sue Us’

insurance companyIf you purchase auto insurance in Washington State, you’ve likely had the opportunity to add something called Uninsured Motorist Coverage (UM) and Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM). In Oregon, you are required to purchase UM/UIM. Essentially, UM provides coverage if the other guy is without insurance and UIM provides coverage if the other guy’s insurance is too low.

In theory, your insurance company should make a good faith effort to investigate your claim and offer you compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, other economic damages, and fair compensation for your pain and suffering as per your contract. In practice, however, your insurance company is likely to say “sue us.” So not only did you dutifully pay your premiums, but now you must incur the costs of litigation in order to be compensated under your coverage.

The reason for this practice, as it seems to this author, is that it increases your costs so that you’re willing to settle for less than you’re entitled. This is a change from previous practice where most insurance contracts required the now cheaper process of arbitration, though arbitration used to be quite a bit more. Your company will likely even require you to sign a “release” (a promise to not sue or demand any more money) when you already have a contract that entitles you to the funds. The only carrier, that this author is aware of, that pays out what it thinks is fair without a release, but will require lawsuits and/or releases for anything above that number, is State Farm.

Fortunately, in Washington State, the Insurance Fair Conduct Act (IFCA) allows compensation for your trouble if your own insurance company behaves particularly egregiously. Oregon, unfortunately, has some rather toothless laws on this subject. Either way, you will likely want an attorney on your side to help you navigate these murky waters.

Jesse Jacobs
Jesse Jacobs
Jesse Jacobs received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) with the distinction of Magna Cum Laude and Dean’s List honors from Seattle University School of Law, and is admitted to practice law in Washington State and Oregon.
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