After suffering injuries in a car accident, it can be discouraging to learn that the amount of compensation you will receive from a car insurance company may depend on something as impersonal as a computer software program.
Bodily-injury liability insurance covers the damage drivers cause to others. It is common for insurers to use software programs that base payments on what has been paid in previous settlements for similar claims in your region.
Car insurance company representatives say they use a fair and impartial system. They point out that claims adjusters remain involved in the process and can exercise discretion. The software programs are described by the industry as tools to promote consistency, not as the sole means of determining payments.
In contrast, critics claim the software can result in reduced amounts paid for injuries, pain and suffering.
In a recent consumer alert, the Consumer Federation of America warned that some insurers "tune" their software programs so that liability payout offers are low-balled to save costs, even though higher sums may be justified.
To arrive at a payment range, computers review hundreds of factors. The most widely used software product is CSC's Colossus.
From an attorney's perspective, computer-assisted settlements are "just a pain to deal with," says Thomas J. Simeone, a personal injury attorney in Washington, D.C. who handles numerous liability cases. "It is not much fun dealing with a robot. It is hard to negotiate a case."
Sometimes it is hard for the insured to find out exactly what standards are being used to arrive at a payment figure, Simeone adds.
"The general rule is that it is an internal mechanism they go through and they do not want to disclose that," he says. "They don't tell you 100 percent what they are looking for because they don't want to be manipulated. It kind of puts them in the driver's seat."
You can't change the fact that auto insurance companies use computers to help calculate compensation. However, there are things you can do to protect yourself and secure a fair payment.
While you should always protect yourself, it's a mistake to take an adversarial approach in a bodily injury liability case. Rothrock says you should not assume that an insurance company will try give you a low-ball offer or that you will wind filing a complaint.
"Often, a person can settle on their own with an insurance company and get a fair result," he says.
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