You just received the car insurance carrier's final settlement offer and it's far lower than the amount you requested. You firmly believe your claim is worth more. Now what?
Most car insurance policies let you resolve your dispute through an out-of-court process called arbitration. Less formal than a courtroom trial, arbitration is a legal proceeding where you and the insurance company present information about your claim to a neutral referee, known as an arbitrator. Arbitration awards are generally legally binding and not appealable.
Arbitration can be a good choice for resolving settlement disputes because it can save you time and money. If you live in a no-fault insurance state, you may be required to arbitrate your car accident settlement disagreement. Read the insurance policy to see if car accident arbitration is an option for you.
A benefit of arbitration is that it can be scheduled much quicker and will usually cost less than a trial. Although each claim involves a unique set of circumstances, the following is a typical timeline in car accident arbitration:
- Days 1 – 60: Filing, and initiating, and selection of arbitrator
- Days 61 – 90: Information exchange and preparation
- Day 91 - 100: Arbitration hearing (may last one or more days)
- Days 101 – 110: Arbitrator's decision and/or the award
If your settlement negotiations have stalled, tell the claims adjuster you want the claim referred to arbitration. You can't force the insurance company into arbitration, but let them know if they refuse your next step is to file a lawsuit. Threatening to sue is only effective if you have a good claim, so highlight your strongest facts when writing your request for arbitration letter. Sometimes parties may choose to resolve a case through binding mediation or arbitration even after a lawsuit has been filed.
Preparing for the Arbitration
Your first task is to select an arbitrator to hear your claim. Arbitrators are often retired judges or highly experienced lawyers. Once selected, the arbitrator is both the judge and the jury—so research each candidate and choose one with a reputation for fairness and integrity. The insurance policy or the laws of your state may determine the number of arbitrators and how they are selected, but you have an equal vote in the final choice.
After you agree on an arbitrator, you will set both a deadline for exchanging documents with the insurance company and a date for the arbitration hearing. Carefully review the information provided by the insurance company so you understand the argument they are making against your claim, and be prepared to present evidence that weakens their case.
What to Expect During the Arbitration
Car insurance arbitration hearings usually occur with all the parties in the same room so the arbitrator can hear a back-and-forth discussion of the claim. Sometimes, however, the parties may be separated into different rooms for their cases to be heard individually by the arbitrator. A typical hearing only lasts a few hours, but some cases can last for days. This should be enough time for you to explain your damages and why the insurance company owes the amount you allege. The day of the arbitration, come prepared to perform the following tasks:
- Make an opening statement
- Call and cross-examine witnesses
- Present evidence that explains and supports your claim
- Be prepared to handle opposition
- Make closing remarks
Remember that arbitration is like a courtroom trial without all the detailed rules of procedure. It's normal to feel some stress and anxiety about the proceeding. Boost your confidence by being well prepared and practicing your favorite relaxation technique. This is your day to argue your case thoroughly, so don't rush through your presentation.
The Arbitration Award
Within a week or two after your hearing, the arbitrator will issue an award statement giving a brief explanation of the outcome. The statement will offer few details about how the decision was reached. The award is legally binding and typically can't be appealed if you're unhappy with the results.
Can the Arbitration Process Help With Your Claim? Ask an Attorney
It's difficult to determine if arbitration is the right choice for your situation. An attorney experienced in auto insurance arbitration can help you understand the insurance policy and its arbitration clause. If you're considering arbitration to resolve your car accident settlement, an experienced accident attorney can help.