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USAA: Auto Accident Claims and Settlements

USAA is a major player in the car insurance market in Maryland and around the country.  The idea behind this company is to offer insurance to people in the military that are serving or have served and their families. usaa claimsThe company is based in San Antonio, Texas and all of their motor vehicle collision claims adjusters appear to be based there.

This carrier plays up its military connection whenever possible, sponsoring, for example, the Army-Navy game every year. It is easy, based on the way they pitch it, for USAA to believe that it is some sort of non-profit company that serves the military.

The reality is that they are an insurance company and their owners receive a profit. In 2012, it had the second largest profit in its history, bringing in over $20 billion in revenue. Their excecutives are paid like the Fortune 500 company they are. Its CEO made at least $5.28 million last year. Its employees do well too. In 2014, USAA employees were told they would receive a bonus of 18.7 percent of their annual salary.

What's the point of all of this information in the context of looking at USAA claims? A part of their sales pitch is that you can trust this insurance company because they are not a real for-profit company. But let's call a spade a spade: their CEO is making over $5 million a year. This is a company like fighting with any other. Battling in the trenches with them tells us that they are like every other insurance company when it comes to trying to pay victims less than the full value of their claim.

Settlement with USAA in Car Accident Cases

Our lawyers find it difficult to make blanket generalizations about how reasonable USAA is for settlement purposes.  Some insurance companies you can expect to be fair; others you know will not be fair.  USAA is a different animal.  It is difficult to predict in an individual case whether it will be reasonable because, in spite of its reliance on computer based case evaluation software, values of claims seem to vary more widely by adjuster than most insurance companies.

USAA is more willing than some of the major insurance companies to dramatically increase their offers after a lawsuit has been filedusaa insurance settlementUSAA is not the only insurance company that does this. But with this insurance company, if you don’t settle the case right after the lawsuit is filed, you are probably less likely to settle the case – if it settles at all – until the settlement conference right before trial.   We don’t know exactly why this is, but it is hard not to notice the obvious:  its lawyers, as discussed below, are paid by the hour. But one thing is for sure: USAA does not like to take cases to trial. The last reported verdict involving USAA that we could find was in 2012. Our last Circuit Court case involving USAA was in 2007 (media article on that case).

This is not the only potential theory as to why cases filed in court usually settle shortly after filing, or not until the trial gets closer.  The value of all accident insurance claims increase as a trial date gets closer because insurance companies take a more critical look at their defense of the case and the real quality of the accident victim’s claim.   More times than our lawyers can count an insurance company stipulates to liability before trial after spending over a year denying the claim was their driver’s fault.

How Does USAA Value Injury Claims for Settlement Purposes?

USAA, like many insurance companies, uses a computer based program, Colossus, to assist in placing an amount of money on an accident claim to compensate the victim.   It evaluates the victim’s medical records and bills and decides how much treatment it thinks was necessary for the accident and what the fair value is of (1) the medical treatment, (2) past or future wage loss and (3) the victim’s pain and suffering.  This company, like most insurance companies, typically undervalues all of these categories before a lawsuit is filed.

Who Are the Lawyers Who Defend Lawsuits Against USAA?

Among the major Maryland car insurers, this insurer is the only one that has eschewed the modern paradigm of having in-house counsel (at least in Maryland).  Instead of having attorneys that are company employees defend vehicle crash suits brought against its insureds, it hires a Maryland attorney in each case to defend individual tort suits.  Whatever the basis for this economic decision, USAA certainly spends more money - per suit filed - defending individual injury lawsuits than the other major insurance companies in Maryland. Do they consider litigation costs more than the other major insurance carriers with in-house counsel? Based on our experience, they probably do. This may be one of the reasons, as we discuss above, this insurer is willing to pay more after suit has been filed. These companies don't start paying their attorneys until after an answer is filed to the plaintiff's lawsuit.

In Maryland, it is frequently defended by Moore & Jackson (Towson), Law Offices of Frank Daly (Hunt Valley), Law Office of J. Thomas Caskey, and Myers, Rodbell & Rosenbaum (Riverdale/Gaithersburg). This is, by and large, a pretty good group of insurance defense lawyers.

Is USAA a Good Insurance Company to Bring a Claim Against?

Our attorneys would not pick USAA as a model defendant by any stretch. This company has stubbornly defended many claims that we thought should have been settled sooner for a price at which we later arrived.  Nothing is gained by going through the litigation process for the sake of going through the litigation process.  But, as mentioned above, it will sometimes surprise you by offering a reasonable value to settle the action out-of-court without the need for filing a lawsuit.  It depends on the type of case, the jurisdiction, the adjuster handling the claim, and the nature of the injuries. 

Based on our experience with this insurer and from looking at jury verdicts against it, it almost seems that this insurer is more likely to take a case to trial against its own insured making an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim than it is when a third party is making a claim against them. usaacollisionsWhy would this be? In Maryland, plaintiffs are largely capped at the policy limits in uninsured motorist cases. If the auto insurance company takes a verdict in excess of the policy limits, it may be liable for the entire verdict. USAA, by the way, would strongly disagree with the assertion that it treats its own policyholder worse then those that make claims against their insureds. We are not saying it is a conspiracy against their own insureds but that the economic exposure might lead it down this path.

Who is Auto Injury Solutions?

Auto Injury Solutions is a third party adjuster that USAA used to outsource some of it claims review work. Most of their work for this carrier is with med pay or personal injury protection. But we just settled a case with them recently where they handled the bodily injury claim. There are not the worst third party adjusters by any stretch. Still, they are awful (if that makes sense).

Our Lawyers Can Help You with Your Accident Claim Against USAA

        Our law firm has handled hundreds of auto accident claims involving USAA and has defeated it at trial many times (see below for a newspaper account of one of our victories against it). If you have been hurt, call us at 800-553-8082 or get a free on-line claim evaluation and consultation.