Oklahoma insurance companies are expected to act in good faith. The law requires that claims be handled fairly. The Oklahoma Supreme court has said claims must be timely paid. The Oklahoma legislature passed the Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act that sets out minimum standards. Adjusters are required to act fairly and comply with Oklahoma law. The consequence is bad faith litigation.
Bad faith claims and lawsuits can be avoided. Good claim practices create good habits. Good habits prevent costly mistakes. Good claim handling isn’t an accident. Here are five ways to ward off complaints, prevent frustration, and steer clear of lawsuits for bad faith in Oklahoma.
1. Smile – does it sound sort of funny? Well, laugh right now while no one is looking. An individual that was highly admired and respected by me once said, “You can say anything to anyone if you say it the right way.” While none of us like to be told “No”, it happens, right? Practice letting the insured know the bad news in a nice way. Regardless of your politics, former President, Ronald Reagan, knew how to say things in a pleasant way. He would smile and say please . . . . He carried a big stick, but he was always polite. He always smiled. You might not like him or what he was going to say, but he was never rude.
2. Show Respect – Use words of respect and courtesy in your speech and your e-mails. Call me old school, but “please” and “thank you” are appreciated. “Yes sir” and “No sir”, may be out of vogue, but they are words that show respect.
Don’t interrupt when someone is talking, let them finish. You may know what they are about to say, but let them say it. Read your e-mail twice before you hit send. Never send an e-mail when you are irritated or frustrated. E-mails always sound harsher than intended. All the more reason to write to policy holders with a mind set of respect for them and their claim.
If you watch the faces of enough jurors in bad faith litigation, you come to understand respect is essential. Jurors understand that people disagree. Jurors disdain being disrespectful. Your e-mails blown up full size and projected on a screen will speak loudly to the jury if you acted in a disrespectful way.
3. Listen – yeah, yeah, yeah! You heard this before. Well, it’s true, listening is important. One of the key components in customer satisfaction is feeling important. The refusal to listen sends a clear message. The person speaking is not important. An interesting side benefit of mediations is for the plaintiff to be heard. The mediator, who seems to be important, listens to them. The ability to talk and get things off their chest is frequently just as valuable to settlement as the amount offered.
4. Help People – don’t adjust claims. The insurance industry talks about adjusting claims. The language emphasized objects rather than putting the focus on people. The business of claims involves real people, not intangible claim files. The “real people” may have damaged property to be replaced or repaired, but they are people, first and foremost.
Helping doesn’t mean just writing settlement checks for the amount requested. It means assistance and frequently includes education. People with insurance claims usually don’t have a lot of experience with claims. They don’t understand the language, much less the concepts of adjusting losses.
Don’t grow tired of taking the time to explain the process. Just like a former teacher from junior high school, you may be remembered as the one person in the entire company that really tried to help them. Years ago, we helped a doctor avoid a malpractice lawsuit. The family was reminded about kind words the doctor had said and how he had genuinely tried to help his patient. Although his mistake resulted in the death, the family recalled the physician really cared. Tears were shed by the doctor along with the family, but suit was never brought.
5. Be Fair – if you owe it, then pay it. Long ago there was an old lawyer that worked as an adjuster in the claim department. He often paid a little more on claims than he had to pay. He didn’t give the company away, but he understood the line between fair and unfair. The balance between fair and unreasonable isn’t necessarily a lot of money. In fact, it seems like a paltry sum once the attorney fee bills for defending the bad faith claim arrive. Treat insureds fairly with the amount you pay. If you don’t, the same old question always comes up. “Would you have paid your mother that amount for her claim?”
Real success in bad faith litigation in Oklahoma isn’t about sending the lawsuit to the best lawyer, it’s about not sending him the work! Oklahoma has a number of excellent attorneys ready and willing to assist with bad faith lawsuits. Attorneys prepared to file the suit on behalf of the policy holder and those willing to fight for the insurance company. Success is not about winning the lawsuit, it’s about avoiding any lawsuit at all!
Our law firm has litigated bad faith cases for decades. We are experienced in insurance litigation. If you want to settle your claims, let us help! Call us 918-587-1525