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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | Should I be afraid to file an insurance claim?

During the 20-plus years the “Legally Speaking” call-in show has been on the air, I’ve talked to hundreds of people who will not file a homeowner’s claim because they are terrified of being canceled even though they have been paying premiums for decades.
davidbetras032020
Attorney David Betras

This week I am going to say a few words about insurance companies. 

No, not “those” words, but you can safely assume that I do not have a lot of good things to say about insurers. It is not that I mind battling them in or out of court. Jousting with them is my job, and I love to win because that means I have secured justice for my client. 

My enmity toward the insurance industry is driven by two things:

First, the insurance industry spends millions of dollars a year lobbying state legislatures and Congress to enact tort “reform” legislation that slams the courthouse door in the faces of everyday Americans who have been injured through no fault of their own.

Along with limiting access to the civil justice system, these laws also make us all less safe because, as I have noted in past columns, lawsuits are often the only thing that motivates corporations to remove dangerous or faulty products from the marketplace. Eliminate the threat of legal action and a lot of people are going to be needlessly injured and killed. I guarantee it.

My second problem with insurers is related to their business model. The industry spends hundreds of millions on advertising to convince us we have to buy insurance, collects our premiums and then threatens to cancel our coverage or raise our rates if we even think about filing a claim. 

In short, it works like this: Buy it. Use it. Lose it. Makes it easy to understand how insurance giants generate obscene profits each and every year. It also makes it easy to understand why people are afraid to file claims or argue with adjusters. 

During the 20-plus years the “Legally Speaking” call-in show has been on the air, I’ve talked to hundreds of people who will not file a homeowner’s claim because they are terrified of being canceled even though they have been paying premiums for decades. It makes me want to scream — and I often do: “For Pete’s sake file the claim!” 

Believe me, State Farm is not going to go broke because a tree branch fell and tore open a hole in your roof.

I become just as aggravated with people who are reluctant to contact an attorney after being involved in a car accident but eagerly accept the first offer made by an adjuster. Here is a tip: The adjuster works for the insurer, not you. Their job is to cajole and bully accident victims into quickly accepting lowball settlements.

Do not let them do it. If you have been in an accident you do not have to call me, but you need to contact an attorney before you talk to an adjuster or sign papers sent to you by an insurance company. 

By signing a release, you give up the right to seek and receive the compensation you will need to repair your car, cover your medical expenses and pay your bills if you are hurt and cannot work. 

Please don’t let the good hands people pick your pocket.

—  Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at BetrasKopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to news@mahoningmatters.com.