The Internet is hammering Progressive Insurance for defending an uninsured motorist wrongful death case. Just hammering. It’s wild. And I’m really enjoying it. Should I? Progressive has committed many crimes
against humanity . But in this case that has caused the Internet to explode, Progressive is being framed for a crime it did not commit, at least on the facts on which Progressive is being hung by the mob.
(Update: Progressive’s PR people sent me an email explaining themselves further.)
Before I defend them, let’s talk about why I don’t like Progressive. Because I don’t. I feel a little bad saying that because I really do like some of their adjusters, many of which are really nice people. But it is an awful company to deal with on car accident claims. They generally write pathetically small policies that are unlikely to meaningfully compensate anyone who is seriously injured. They write a lot of $30,000/$60,000 polices which are the minimum in Maryland – the exact reason they are able to brag about their pricing. Yes, practically no coverage at all is pretty cheap.
Just as annoying, Progressive gives awful settlement offers until you file suit, because they can always pony up their piddly little policies at the last minute and avoid exposure. (I complain about this here.) Because they can always pony up their piddly little policies at the last minute and avoid exposure. Thankfully, Progressive has a small in-house counsel’s office in Maryland hich means once a lawsuit is filed, they dramatically change their tune. I’ve had Progressive claims adjusters tell me to file suit so they can increase their offer.
Anyway, the thing that is causing this hubbub is a case where a beautiful young woman – a Progressive insured – is tragically killed in a car accident in Baltimore. Nationwide Insurance, the at-fault carrier, at some point tenders their policy limits. Progressive refuses to waive it subrogation rights against the at-fault driver. So it claimed that it was not obligated to pay because the young woman was at-fault for the accident. Her brother wrote a really well written piece, underscoring his anger and frustration with Progressive, and then the Internet did what the Internet does.
Was this a good faith belief? Certainly, I have my doubts. Progressive most likely only had a $100,000 policy. So it had nothing to lose in rolling the dice and trying the case. This is the kind of garbage they do all of the time (which is why Maryland needs a first party bad faith law with real teeth). We have had plenty of verdicts against insurance companies in uninsured motorist cases because they were not motivated to settle because they knew no matter what the jury awarded, they would only have to pay the policy limits.
But the problem is that there is no actual evidence that anyone has seen in this case that Progressive’s defense was not in good faith. Yes it was – reportedly – a red light, green light case with a witness. But in Maryland, if the victim is even 1% responsible for their injuries, the claim is barred. Was there any evidence of contributory negligence here that would give traction to Progressive’s defense? Absolutely no one writing on the Internet knows. Above the Law sets out a bunch of links of bloggers and writers who are just apoplectic over this story but none of them are really framing the issue properly. Did Progressive have a basis for defending the case, for arguing that the woman was 1% responsible – or more – for the accident?
(Progressive, typically, was no help, putting out a trite statement that did not explain why they defended the case. Could they have a good reason and not set it out in their statement? Yes, I think Progressive can be that dumb.)
I just don’t think trying the case without something they really believed might carry the day is Progressive’s MO. Definitely – definitely – making you file the lawsuit and go through discovery is right in Progressive’s wheelhouse. But actually trying the case? I doubt it. Also, Progressive’s lawyer in the case, Jeff Moffet, is a real lawyer who would not contest a UM wrongful death case with such a small policy unless he had a leg on which to stand. (Minority report: some evil and/or stupid adjuster pushed him that way.)
But left unsaid is discussion of the question of whether Progressive should contest these types of cases if it really believes, in good faith, that the at-fault driver is not responsible. The answer: of course. It is weird – really weird – for plaintiffs when their own insurance company steps in the shoes of the carrier. That is what made the original blogger so mad. The idea that his sister’s own insurance company was taking the side of the killer in her wrongful death claim. But if there is a defense to be made, that is exactly what the UM carrier is supposed to do. Step in and defend the claim. Now, I don’t think Progressive gives its insureds, as it should, the benefit of the doubt in these cases which would mean we may have framed a guilty insurance company. (Think Mark Furman planting the glove on O.J.). But I also don’t expect the uninsured motorist carrier to just roll over, just because an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim has been brought.
Whether or not Progressive is guilty on this one, car accident attorneys in Maryland might have an easier time dealing with Progressive in the short term. Even if Progressive has been falsely accused here, they may go out of their way to make sure that the wrong perception about the company isn’t reinforced or perpetuated by setting themselves up again for another public relations disaster with stupid settlement offers in serious injury or death cases.