Insurance Subrogation: Spotlight Practice Area

Andy Van Bronkhorst, featured attorneyInterview with Andy VanBronkhorst, Attorney—

Andy VanBronkhorst has been practicing law since 2008, the same year he received his law degree from Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, California. Prior to law school, Andy graduated from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he earned a B.S. in economics. He joined HVH in 2015.

Andy is a litigator who specializes in insurance subrogation. He manages the firm’s subrogation practice group, handling, large-loss and small-loss property as well as auto claims primarily across Michigan but also across the United States. He personally handles claims from the initial investigation through trial or arbitration, diligently providing timely and responsive communication with every client. His efforts and responsiveness consistently results in shorter turnaround and higher recoveries on claims. His industry involvement was recognized by Michigan’s chapter of the National Association of Subrogation Professionals, who appointed him the committee co-chairperson. Recently, he was selected as a Super Lawyers 2016 Rising Star.

Subrogation is something of a niche market in the insurance industry – in most cases involving insurance companies, the plaintiffs hope to recover money from insurance companies; but in subrogation cases it’s the other way around: insurance companies seeking recovery from someone else. This means that Andy is a plaintiff’s counsel representing insurance-company plaintiffs, which is far from the norm at HVH, where many of HVH attorneys defend insurers.

Andy says that the key to success in being a subrogation attorney is organization and responsiveness – it also helps that he knows the law inside and out, but what keeps clients happy is that he keeps his claim files moving forward at a brisk pace, and that he always responds to client emails or calls the same day.

How did you become interested in subrogation? What path brought you here?

When I finished law school, I worked for a midsize West Michigan law firm that handled just a handful of subrogation files. At the time, nobody in the firm wanted to touch them, so I volunteered. What a great decision: I ended up loving subrogation (if such a thing is possible). My clients are great to work with, the practice is not overly stressful, and it gives me an opportunity to be a true expert in a relatively narrow body of law. But really the most important reason I love subrogation is the great clients I have had the opportunity to work with. Almost all of them know subrogation quite well, so they are collaborative partners in handling claims; I just get along with my clients, so I enjoy working with them.

Once I realized what a great niche I had landed in, I decided I wanted to make it my entire practice. Fortunately for me, one of my good friends Nick Ayoub, an attorney at HVH, introduced me to the firm.
I gladly joined the firm in July 2015, and since then have “filled up my plate” and more handling subrogation files for the firm’s many insurance-company clients.

What is Insurance Subrogation?

When people suffer losses, they turn to their insurance company to “make them whole” – even if there is some other individual who may be responsible for causing the loss. When this happens, the injured person’s insurance company will pay the claim and “step into the shoes” of the injured person, and thereafter seek reimbursement from the responsible party. For example, suppose you own a storefront, and one of your customers drives his car into your building. You have insurance, so you tender a claim to your insurance company to fix the damage. Your insurance company pays you but then your insurance company has the right to seek recovery from the driver who caused the collision. When the insurance company brings in such a claim, it is “subrogated” to the legal rights that you would otherwise have had, so the claim is called a “subrogation claim.”

Some people (very few, I hope) think that insurance subrogation is a bad practice, because the insurance company is “being greedy” trying to avoid the financial loss incurred by paying its claims. That intuition, however, is wrong. Subrogation serves an important role not only in the insurance industry, but also in society at large. First, when I pursue a subrogation claim, I seek recovery of the insured’s insurance deductible. When I am successful, the injured person gets his or her deductible back—and who doesn’t like getting a $500 check?

Second, it helps keep premiums down. When insurance companies recover on their subrogation claims, it brings the overall cost of claims down, which in turn allows them to charge lower rates to their customers—meaning, lower premiums, cheaper insurance.

Third, and perhaps most important, subrogation assists in keeping our world a safer place. Imagine if you had a house fire and you didn’t have insurance. Would you know who to call in order to scientifically determine what caused the fire? Would you know who to call to make sure that, if there was a third party responsible for the fire, that the claim against that party was properly handled so that they were ultimately held responsible? The answer to these questions is almost certainly no—your life is in turmoil when you sustain a house fire, so you are unable to deal with all of the complicated and important matters going on around you. But when you have an insurance company handling the claim, you have professionals who are experts at doing just those important and technical things, and who can take the steps necessary to pursue a claim against whoever caused the loss. When they do that, the wrongdoer has its “feet to the fire” because the wrongdoer/s has to shell out money to compensate the insurance company for the loss. And holding wrongdoers accountable is ultimately good for society.

Take for example a manufacture whose product causes fires. If there were no subrogation, then the manufacturer, knowing that house fires are almost always covered by insurance, would for all practical purposes face no liability. Thus, without subrogation the incentive for the manufacturer to take the difficult and expensive steps to redesign its dangerous products is relatively low. But with subrogation laws, manufacturers know they have to defend subrogation lawsuits when their products cause the losses, so they have a much higher incentive to take those difficult steps to make their products safer.

What are you known for professionally? What do you have a knack for?

I think that the thing that helps me professionally is that I always have my eye on the goal line: getting my client’s claim paid. Having this in mind at all times during the claims process means that each claim must be evaluated individually. There’s not a single checklist I can use for every claim. I have found that if all my energies are focused on the ultimate resolution of the claim, there often can be a lot of busywork avoided, saving my client time, money, and headache. But this does mean that I need to be creative with how I handle each claim and be willing to change my ways where appropriate.

What’s the one problem you solve best for your clients? What do your ideal clients say about you?

I haven’t asked my client this question, so I’m guessing; but I think that what my clients appreciate is that when they give me a file they can trust that the file will be handled appropriately without a lot of client oversight. They don’t need to worry about the details of making sure the claim is handled properly. That’s my job. They can trust me to do it properly. I believe my clients appreciate that when they assign me a file, other than receiving periodic updates, the only thing I will need from them is their signature on a release and a settlement check. Not every case is quite that simple, but that’s the goal, and I think my clients appreciate when it happens that way.

What are you most passionate about professionally? What most excites you about your work and the contribution you can make?

I can’t wait for new claims, new files. I like the ones I’ve been working on for a long time, but when a new claim lands on my desk, or a client calls me with a brand-new loss, my excitement level goes up. I think it’s because there are so many interesting stories, interesting facts, interesting situations that that we “subrogators” get to see, and I always look forward to the next interesting file I get to work on and settle. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

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