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The Internet Hates Progressive Insurance.. But Should It?

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.

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  • Dan

    Your points are reasonable from a legal perspective. From a human perspective my Ins co. should never defend the at fault motorist (witness and Police rpt). Now what will Progressive loose in the long run? Think outside the law, act with-in it.

  • William Holder

    Progressive not only sought to avoid its responsibility, it then issued two statements that were outright lies as court documents and Fisher confirm.

    The evidence in this case is clear and readily available for you to examine. Either you are incompetent in your research or you are a lawyer – regardless, doesn’t say much for you.

    This company is made up of crooks and liars – and if this article accurately reflects other content on this website – so are you.

  • William Holder

    Don’t bother posting my previous comment or any others you may receive – they won’t be flattering.

    Asshole.

  • http://www.seocontent.net Will

    I was waiting for someone to clarify what was happening in the Progressive case. Most of the reports on the story have been overly simplified into the good guy vs bad guy narrative with no sense of context.

  • Ron Miller

    Dan, your argument would work better in civilized states that have comparative negligence. In Maryland, you can be just 1% responsible and your claim is barred. The police report would not speak to this. The witness may or may not have lended support to a contrib defense. Which takes me full circle back to my original point: we don’t know the facts of this case.

  • Rebecca

    And people still wonder why most people think lawyers are soulless scumbag. Thanks for reminding me

  • Ron Miller

    Rebecca and William, I’m okay with the insults. But I would rather discuss the merits of the arguments. (This is the Internet, after all.) But, really, I would like to know the reasons why you think I’m wrong besides the invectives. I hate Progressive and would love to be wrong. But I don’t think I am.

  • William Holder

    You’re right. I’m sorry. Be clear – Progressive is in the wrong.

    The circumstances of the accident are not ambiguous. Progressive actively participated in the defense of the negligent driver.

    Documents supporting these assertions are viewable on the web.

    It’s not a question of Progressive rolling over – they simply sought to shirk their responsibility in this case and then they lied not once but twice in statements published on the internet about their involvement in the case. It is improper for you to offer any defense for Progressive as that makes you appear as condemnable as them.

  • http://chelsea.clarke@gmail.com chelsea

    Where and how can we find out if they have a leg to stand on that Katie was at fault? Why would National not claim that Katie was at fault in the first place to avoid paying their part? How can you really tell “1%” of fault anyway? Is her deciding to Go at a green light fault? I just don’t understand how anyone driving through a green light who is hit by a driver running a red light could be at any fault at all. I am a personal friend of Matt’s and am trying to be understanding, but you have to see it from our point of view- Progressive and other Insurance companies seem to just play the odds and wait for people to sue. And I bet they saw the Fishers, good people, so completely fragile and destroyed by Katie’s death and thought it was a good gamble that they wouldn’t be able to go through with the trial. Do you know what I mean? It really feels like they were just stomping on them. I’m not doubting it was within the law. But, I wonder.. who lobbies for these laws? Insurance companies.

    We should all hope that when us or our loved one is in an accident it is under the eye of a camera I guess.

  • Matt

    Rare context here, to a story that needs it badly.

    Though Dan, you show more than a little bias in your blaming Progressive for writing low limit policies. Your anguish seems misplaced since – like contributory negligence – those limits are set by the STATE and consumers themselves choose the limits they purchase. Seems odd to blame Progressive for pricing those low-limit policies more competitively than the rest of the market, or than MAIF.

    Low limit policies aren’t good for ambulance-chasing attorneys, but they are good for the many people who only buy car insurance because the state forces them to.

  • Matt

    Chelsea – if the police report comes out, or witness testimony, indicating that Katie was partially at fault (as Matt’s own blog post suggested may be the case), would that at all change your opinion of the situation?

  • Eric

    Ron, your speculations have done a good job of establishing reasonable doubt in favor of Progressive. While this standard, based on the presumption that it is better to let the guilty go unpunished than to penalize the innocent, is entirely appropriate in criminal cases, a lesser standard is more appropriate in the court of public opinion and when making personal commercial decisions (e.g. picking an insurer). An ethics professor once told me that when making a decision, you should always be prepared to defend that decision in the public spotlight. We should be hearing your arguments as facts from Progressive (along with more substantive detail), rather than as speculations from you. The fact that the only statements we’ve heard from Progressive have been misleading (playing semantics with the word “defense”) and secretive (“our focus is resolving this with the family”, e.g. not with the public… which is a luxury they no longer have…) lends more credence to them being guilty, and attempting to weasel out of the consequences of being caught, rather than providing any support to your speculation that they had good-faith doubt regarding the merits of the Fisher family’s case.

  • Ryan

    Chelsea, was Katie speeding through the green light? Talking on her phone / texting? Wearing sunglasses at night? Eating food while driving? Driving with bad brakes? Any one of those things could be deemed contributory negligence if it limited her ability to react defensively to an at-fault driver.

  • Trevor

    Eric – the public spotlight/”60 Minutes” test is a great way to look at it.

    With regard to hearing more facts from Progressive, I guess I don’t assume the worst like you do. What if Progressive has such information. Would it really be in their best interest to come out and use it as their “defense” in the court of public opinion? Releasing such evidence/details at this point amidst the public assumption of guilt (this is one of those “evil” insurance companies we’re talking about, right?) would likely be seen as a heartless company insulting/attacking a dead person. That is likely a very losing position for Progressive to take in the court of public opinion. Perhaps that’s why they aren’t disclosing more information.

  • Ron Miller

    Trevor, I agree with you, Progressive is walking a fine line. Why not get the transcript, release it, and let the Internet do what the Internet does? That way, they are not casting aspersions on the dead but getting the facts out there.

    Eric, I agree with you wholeheartedly that we should not use a criminal standard to view Progressive. But that was actually not the standard I was using. I don’t think there is any evidence against Progressive other than their prior bad acts (of which there are many). Because we have so few facts about this case.

    Matt, I’m not saying Progressive is evil for writing low polices. I’m just saying I don’t like it. They could choose a different path of providing their clients more protection as opposed to competing on price and not fully explaining how limited their coverage is. There failure to do so is legal and maybe even ethical. But I don’t like it.

    William, so you are mad only about what Progressive did after the story broke? Specifically, which lies are you upset about?

    I appreciate all of the comments. Discussion is one of the great upsides of the Internet.

  • TiredODaCrap

    What joke!! They write pathetically small policies? Who pays for – and ultimately is responsible for choosing – those limits? Not Progressive, but the customer!

    As a personal injury attorney, you have obviously NEVER demanded that piddlie little limit when you knew your client’s case wasn’t worth anywhere near that, have you? Of course you have! That’s what all attorneys do. You promise “millions” and then know that when you get a reasonable settlement, you’re going to take 1/3, plus expenses and other fees, before your client (or their medical providers) sees a dime!

    Look, I hate Progressive Insurance as much as anyone. They are smug, difficult to deal with, and built around making (and keeping) as much money as they possibly can. However, as usual, the internet furior over this case is based on emotion about something a majority of people out there – especially those willing to make the comments they have – know less than nothing about!

    How many of your clients know that every state requires you to enter an intersection carefully/cautiously, even with a green light? How many have any clue what their policy actually covers.

    More than happy to see Progressive have to “bend over and take” this one, but let’s not pretend that Injury attorneys are not full of their own B.S. that they use to play the game every single day. Horrible case, but in the end, looks like it was handled properly. Unfortunately, proper handling does not always equal good P.R.

  • Mike

    Ron – its one thing to let the legal system run its course – they are absolutely within their rights to do so. Though it may leave a bad taste in ones mouth, it’s not dispicable. If they simply let someone else defend the killer, that’s not great but fine, they need to run a profitable business and need to let that play out. But to somehow decide to *defend* the killer of *your own* client who has been paying premiums to you is downright disgusting and what I think takes this from normal Internet outrage to all out flame war. Especially when in most scenarios progressive knows full well they can outspend and out lawyer their own client. It makes it very difficult for them to signal that their interests are aligned.

  • http://www.chicagonursinghomelawyer.com Barry Doyle

    You raise some valid points as to why the case may have been defensible. Whether it should have been defended instead of settled is a different question all together.

    Me, I’m tired of going to court and having my clients looked at with suspicion after the endless PR job the insurance industry has done on anyone who files a lawsuit. When else do you hear the word “frivolous” used to describe anything else other than someone else’s lawsuit?

    You may be right in saying that there may have been legitimate grounds for defending the case, and seeing and understanding both sides of the argument is part of what we as lawyers. This isn’t going to be the McDonald’s case for the insurance industry, but I would just as soon raise the profile of this case, spread the narrative that this family was done wrong by an insurance company they paid premiums to, and let the next group of jurors waiting to be chosen in one of my cases start thinking about the heartless adjusters sitting in the cubes at the claims office who forced the case to go to trial.

    Its bad PR for the insurance industry and we should be riding it for all we can.

  • http://www.claimspages.com Michael Kay

    Having worked insurance claims for a number of years, I can tell you that Ronald is correct in his assertion that insurance companies will not just roll over and pay an
    uninsured/underinsured motorist claim when presented. Insurance companies have a duty to all of their policyholders and stockholders (if a stock company) to only pay claims which are legally owed
    Although I can’t speak as to the merits of this case, I do know that literally hundreds of thousands of uninsured and underinsured motorist claims are submitted to insurance carriers each year. Although many are deemed legit and paid promptly, others are disputed and litigated. A disagreement over who is liabile (regardless who wins the case) doesn’t mean that an insurance carrier didn’t act in good faith.

    What I can tell you is that most insurance carriers with (1) minimum limits in a (2) disputed liability situation with a (3) serious injury or death, would have offered their limits to the decedent’s family quickly to secure a release for their policyholder. Although they may believe that their policyholder may not be at-fault, the combination of
    inconclusive evidence and a worst case senario verdict will often prompt them to dump their policy limits early. It’s a good faith offer on their part.

    The offer of policy limits triggers the underinsured motorist claim. The underinsured motorist carrier does a full investigation of their own and makes an independent determination as to liability. If they agree that the other driver was the sole negligent party (in a contrib negligence state), they will make an offer to settle the claim. If they believe their own insured is at fault, they will deny the claim which often times proceeds to litigation. The jury has the final word.

    Along the way, the minimum limits insurer may ask a judge to allow them to pay their policy limits and be excused from defending their own insured. Outrageous as that may sound, some judges allow it, effectively forcing the underinsured motorist carrier to defend the adverse driver. Truth can be stranger than fiction
    Based on the little bit I did read about this case, it appears that the minimum limits carrier did defend their own insured, and that Progressive was only involved in the sidelines to protect their own interest in the case.

    BTW, I believe that judges and juries ignore as much as 10-20% negligence in contributory negligence states. And that’s the way I handled them…

  • Micropterus

    Tragic accident, for sure. Our hearts go out to the family of the deceased. Now, on to my point. This “firestorm” was not caused by Progressive’s denial of liability and litigation of the case. That happens from time to time. You know that. It was caused by a fundamental misunderstanding by Matthew Fisher as to the role of Progressive in the matter. Katie’s brother was apparently under the impression that Progressive was defending the other driver. Progressive’s statement, and your prior blog entry, accurately state the actual role Progressive took – that of the UIM carrier defending their own interests and the interests of their entire membership is a case of disputed liability. I find it amazing that Matthew went so long with his misunderstanding. His blog was picked up and the misunderstanding was perpetuated all the way to the national media. Certainly, we can’t blame the brother for the misunderstanding. After all, he’s not in the business. We can’t blame Progressive, either, since they are insulated from contact with their insured’s family by the attorney. In my opinion, the blame for the misunderstanding falls squarely on the shoulders of the plaintiff attorney, Allen Cohen. Cohen had the opportunity, indeed, the duty, to accurately advise Katie’s family of the circumstances surrounding the decision to litigate the case, as well as the roles of the litigants. He doesn’t have to agree with it, but he has to explain it. And he has a duty not to mischaracterize it. It seems Cohen apparently chose not to do so. It seems Katie’s family went forward without a true understanding of what was going on. It further seems that Matthew’s misunderstandings arose from a failure of the family’s counselor to, well, counsel. One simply cannot draw a rational conclusion that Matthew would have thought what he did had he been counseled properly. So, as a result of the misunderstanding, a grieving New York comedian with a blog posted inaccuracies about a situation that is far from uncommon in Maryland. And as far as I have seen, Mr. Cohen, Esquire, still has not made any effort to clear the air. Instead, it is reported that he suggested that Progressive acted in bad faith and that Progressive should pay the entire verdict. If it’s true he suggested that, it is a patently absurd suggestion. But the motivation to do so seems clear. Contingency fees increase dramatically when cases must be litigated. It’s a shame this “firestorm” occurred at all. It didn’t need to. Lincoln said, “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser — in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough. Never stir up litigation. A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this. “ It seems some plaintiff attorneys still have a lot to work on in this respect.

  • Anon

    progressive denied the claim based on their beliefs of contributory negligence apparently.. If you don’t like maryland law that’s fine, most plaintiff lawyers don’t like it either, but blame the law not the insurer who works within the confines of the applicable law.

  • aqdrinker

    The law should be guided by morality and justice. But the the law doesn’t define what is moral and just. I believe far too many lawyers fail to see the distinction and think that if they are doing something permissible by the law than they must be acting morally. Denying a claim to a customer because the law allows you to do so if the customer was 1% responsible for an accident is an immoral and unjust act. The common man’s reaction to this case is the correct one. The observation that the law allows such a position is not a justification.

  • Jason Hash

    I went over the case and although I agree that the denial was proper I always remind myself claims are not balck & white – they are grey. I digress I probably would’ve denied the UMBI claim intially too.

    You are right about Progressive. They are a substandard carrier that provides minial coverage to the secondary market. They are also following that business model to a tee. You see the same thing going on with MAIF. Very low offers, stair stepped, until they pony up the policy on the court room steps. It frustrates adjusters and stresses out defense counselors.

    At this point if I were the Progressive counsel I would NOT be releasing any statements what-so-ever and might make a mitigated offer due to the negative press and to avoid huge defense costs, but based on its merits most judges in MD would probably dismiss the claim on summary judgement.

    I understand the progressive insured’s family is probably upset, and rightfully so, but if you want to be mad at someone don’t get mad at the carrier get made at the IEW – that’s probably the whole reason why liability was shifted against her in the first place.

  • David

    Leave it to a bunch of lawyers to rationalize the behavior of scumbags.

    Of course, there’s no law against being a scumbag. If there were, there would be no lawyers.

  • Richard Hershberger

    @ Micropterus:

    I don’t know anything beyond what I have read here and Matt Fisher’s blog entry, so you may have more information than do I. But based on what I have seen, I’m not seeing what you see regarding the plaintiffs’ attorney. Matt Fisher is not his client: the parents are. Does he have a duty to go discussing a case with all the family members of his clients? Seriously? We have no idea what he did or did not tell his clients. He might have explained the situation perfectly, with the explanation distorted through multiple transmission by persons who only half understand it. Or Matt Fisher might never have discussed it with anyone before posting.

  • Chris

    After reading all of this, I go back to two comments. The first comment is by Chelsea asking why National paid their limits if a 1% liability finding would have meant they owed nothing; infering that Nationwide’s decision to pay their limits meant that Progressive should do the same. As with so many of the comments above, many juries rush to an “emotional judgment” regardless of facts, the applicable law, and the rules of civil procedure because they believe in a claimant’s inherent entitlement to insurance proceeds. In this particular case, where the decedent’s claim had tremendous jury appeal and a value in excess of National’s $100,000 policy limit, I can understand them not being willing to roll the dice and be exposed to an excess verdict against their insured resulting in a bad faith claim. Thus, the decison that National made, and the reasons behind it, cannot be used as any type of guidance in evaluating Progressive’s decision to defend the matter on liability.

    The second comment is Dan’s, where he states that his own UM/UIM carrier should never defend the party he believes at fault to support the UM/UIM claim he wants to make. Yet, in either a comparative fault state or a strict contributory negligenece state, the law is that his own negligence, if any, reduces his recovery. Thus, his carrier has the legal right to contest his UM/UIM claim and assert a comparative fault or contributory negligence defense; unless Dan feels that by virtue of paying a meager premium, he is above the law.

  • Billie Knight

    If Progressive contended comparative negligence, it should have done so at the beginning of the claim. Nationwide took 100% liability and paid the policy limits as a result. Once Progressive assumes the third party carrier role under UIM, they are fighting uphill if they contend negligence is spilt when neither they or the third party carrier made that determination prior to the original $25k settlement.

    A very poor decision was made to litigate this claim with a short policy amount, either by the Progressive counsel, or by the claim adjuster who pushed it to counsel. Progressive likely thought they would wear down their insured, outspend their means to try the case.

    Poor decision equals bad PR. That’s life and Progessive lives with the consequences.

  • joe

    Progressive Insurance == scumbags

  • http://www.forthepeople.co.uk Lloyd Green

    Hi Ron
    Great writing style, particularly like the scoring out of words !

    Insurers, yeah, got to love them. An interesting post also, we don’t have a concept of underinsured in the UK, as insured is insured, sounds a little crazy to me.

  • nperry

    I was in an accident with a person who is insured by Progressive Insurance in Houston Texas. The person at the time of the accident stated that he was liable and he had liability insurance so I should be covered. He never filed a claim against my insurance company however after being without a vehicle for two days a representative at Progressive Natalie Pierce/ Butler located at 2950 North W Loop Ste 300 Houston, TX . Informed me that he stated that we were both changing lanes. I was in my lane; however he began to push into my lane; which in turn caused the accident. Natalie Pierce never contacted me regarding my claim being denied until I contacted her in writing and then called. At that time she informed me that my claim was denied due to we both were changing lanes. She never had an adjuster review my car except in pictures and when I asked for documentation on what investigation took place. She said you will have to subpoena the information. They never had any intention to pay the claim; however at this time I am already out of 500 hundred dollars and I still have to pay for a rental vehicle while my vehicle is being repaired and the deductible. Progressive insurance is the worst. My sister is insured with them and she stated that last year they sent out letters telling their clients if they are ever in an accident never admit fault call progressive first. I will get an attorney just to prove my point. I’m tired of being victimized by large companies.