I wrote a blog post last month with the antagonizing title “Insurance Adjusters Say the Silliest Things,” discussing an article written by one insurance claims adjuster that fell into the worst stereotypes of adjusters. The post was recently picked up by an insurance claims journal (which I have since cannot find) which I thought led to a few interesting comments from other plaintiffs’ lawyers and a few insurance adjusters. One, inexplicably, contends that insurance claims adjusters are people too.
Did you know State Farm has a blog? They don’t call it a blog. Instead, it is a learning center that educates consumers with “articles, discussions, videos, and financial calculators to help you make informed decisions” about car insurance, what to do after an accident, and so forth.
You know how these things read. One recent post is on “How to Handle Parking Lot Accidents.” There is not one piece of information you could not figure out on your own if you have a 6th grade education or equivalent experience. But whatever, I have a few things like that on our website, too.
But here’s the funny part. You know how these corporate blogs try never to say anything even remotely controversial? One State Farm blog post said:
The fender bender you were just in appears to be minor. No one looks injured and there is minimal damage to the vehicles. First breathe a sigh of relief – then take these precautions to help prevent your small accident from becoming a big problem.
- Don’t drive away.
- Do stay at the scene and move your vehicle to a safe place out of traffic even if there appears to be no damage. If the other car is parked and the owner isn’t around, leave a note with your name and contact information.
- Don’t assume there aren’t injuries.
- Do assess yourself and your passengers. Even low-impact collisions can cause injuries, some not appearing until days after the accident.
- Don’t sign any documents and avoid accepting or offering cash for repairs. You may end up paying out-of-pocket to repair damage to your car that only appears minor, or you could pay the other driver more than necessary.
- Do stay calm. Take notes and photos, and exchange information with the other driver, including your name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, license plate number, insurance company, and policy number.
- Don’t assume an accident is too minor to be reported.
- Do call the police or file a report on your own. This will help your insurance agent handle your claim. An accident report could also help protect you from issues that may arise later about the extent of damage to your vehicle or injuries to you and the other driver.
- Don’t forget to notify your State Farm agent.
- Do discuss your options for handling potential claims.
The State Farm Pocket Agent smartphone app makes it easy to capture the essential details of an accident. Pocket Agent can help you diagram the accident scene, record witnesses’ names and numbers, contact your agent, and even locate nearby repair shops.
You might not notice the injuries until DAYS after the accident? I’m not even sure I would support the theory that it happens regularly, although I suspect it happens. I also don’t think it is controversial to say that people can get hurt in low impact car accidents. People can die in relatively low impact accidents, according to science and physics. So it is not a leap of faith to suggest that sometimes, albeit rare, people get hurt in low impact vehicle accidents.
Here’s the fun part: State Farm takes down the page. Seriously? Is State Farm EVER going to contest anything on here at trial? Is anyone ever going to be swayed by these general admissions as applied to an individual case? Yet some ninny decided that they couldn’t leave this life ammunition out there. Continue reading
This quote leads off an article in Property and Casualty 360:
To me, a claims man is a surgeon. That desk is an operating table. And those pencils are scalpels and bone chisels. And those papers are not just forms and statistics and claims for compensation, they’re alive, they’re packed with drama, with twisted hopes and crooked dreams. A claims man, Walter, is a doctor and a bloodhound…and a cop and a judge and a jury and a father confessor all in one.
In my particular line of work, it is easy to take potshots at insurance adjusters and stereotype them as disciples of Darth Vader who combine the giddy good humor of the Syrian army with a willingness to shoot their own parents in the head if that meant underpaying on an honest claim. I know these stereotypes are easy because I do it all the time on this blog and it is great fun. But, gun to my head, I think at their core, insurance claims adjusters are no better or worse than doctors, lawyers, or Indian chiefs. Most stereotypes of professions fail.
Still, the stereotypes exist. So if I’ve been falsely accused of vandalism recently, I will take down the M-80 casings on the desk and put away my baseball bat with red paint on it because I want to make sure that any false stereotypes about me are not perpetuated or reinforced.
This quote does just the opposite. First, the arrogance is loud and clear. It has the whole “Alec Baldwin in Malice, I am the ultimate power” vibe to it. The reality, pal, is that you are not a surgeon, you are a claims adjuster.
(Look, I’m not a surgeon either, but I’m not pretending to be as important as one. A lot of lawyers do. I’m a guy that tries to get his clients as much money as possible, treat his clients well, and hope that all of that equals justice and I’m a useful cog in the circle of life. Gerry Spence said a few years ago that lawyers are the most important people in world. And I think he is nuts unless your name is Thurgood Marshall or something like that.) Continue reading
You can call it a sad but true fact if you want: the value of a personal injury case in Maryland might double (or be cut in half) based on where the case is tried. I provide here our thoughts on where each Maryland county and Baltimore City ranks on the food chain of preferability for venue in personal injury cases.
Defense lawyers want to go back to olden days when plaintiffs did not forum shop, they just filed where it was most convenient and advantageous to the plaintiff. Defense lawyers are big into restoring traditions that never existed. I’ve never seen a stitch of evidence to suggest that venue has not been a battlefield since the Industrial Revolution. There are more opportunities where reasonable minds can differ as to the venue in 2012 because we are so much more cosmopolitan today. Just about every tort that arose 150 years ago was on some guy’s farm. So while the analysis is more complex now, there have always been different communities that had different values and this impacts the lens with which they view personal injury claims. Continue reading
I just had a great talk on settlement with a State Farm claims adjuster. No, really. It is true. I am not kidding.
I made a demand. She said she asked for authority right about what I was asking for, but the settlement authority she has is “X”. The adjuster wryly pointed out that she did not own the company and suggested I take the offer back to my client and find out whether he wants to sue or settle.
I’ll recommend to the client we sue. He has a serious injury and will make an unbelievable plaintiff at trial. But I appreciate a reasonable State Farm adjuster who did not swallow the Kool-Aid and just lays it out straight.
Here is the email I got from Progressive’s PR people today:
In response to your story involving Progressive Insurance, please see the below updated statement on behalf of Progressive:
For the past week, Progressive has been in active settlement discussions with the family of Kaitlynn Fisher. Though there was considerable public interest in this case and we know many of you saw mentions of it on social media and news outlets, we also believed it was inappropriate to share further details while those discussions were ongoing. As of this morning, an agreement has been reached with the Fisher family to settle the claim. Prior to that, we were cautious with our responses, but now that the agreement has been reached, we’d like to further clarify Progressive’s role in the trial.
Ms. Fisher held a policy with Progressive that included Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage, which protects drivers in the event they’re struck by an at-fault driver who’s either uninsured or doesn’t have enough coverage.
Under Maryland law, in order to receive the benefits of an underinsured driver claim, the other driver must be at fault. Sometimes this can be proven without the need for a trial, but in Ms. Fisher’s case, there were credible conflicting eyewitness accounts as to who was at fault.
A trial was necessary so that a jury could review all of the evidence and come to a decision. In those circumstances, under Maryland law, the insurance company providing the Underinsured Motorist coverage is considered a defendant. As a defendant in this case, Progressive participated in the trial procedures on our own behalf while Nationwide represented the other driver.
On Thursday, August 9, a jury determined that the other driver was at fault in the accident involving Ms. Fisher. In accordance with that decision, Progressive worked with the Fisher family and their legal representative to resolve the claim.
This was a tragic accident and our sympathies go out to the Fisher family.
Statement posted here: http://www.progressive.com/understanding-insurance/entries/2012/8/16/update_on_the_kaitl.aspx
[name deleted] | Account Manager
Allison+Partners for Progressive
71 Fifth Avenue, 7th Floor | New York, NY 10003
Direct: [deleted] Mobile: [deleted] [more personal information deleted]
I have gotten a lot of interesting comments on the “Progressive did not tender policy limits in wrongful death case in Baltimore” Internet firestorm. One fascinating idea set forth from one commenter is that this becomes the insurance industry’s McDonald’s coffee case. The commenter dismisses the notion, but it is interesting. Could anyone have predicted that case would still have legs 17 years later?
Is it okay to frame the whole insurance industry for this? They are guilt of plenty. Wouldn’t the ends justify the means? Not for nothing, I think Martin Luther King would disagree that the ends would justify the means. He attacks the issue in a lot more serious context than uninsured motorist coverage, I’ll tell ya that.
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 #1: Progressive’s PR people sent me an email explaining themselves further.
Update #2: It is 2014. Who is still talking about this case? Absolutely no one. It is amazing to me how these social media storms blow over as quickly as they come.
Before I defend them, let’s talk about why I don’t like Progressive. Because I don’t. I talk about this here where I both rant and explain how to beat them at trial.
I feel a little bad saying that I don’t like them because I really 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 write pathetically small policies unlikely to meaningfully compensate anyone who is seriously injured. They write a lot of $30,000/$60,000 policies which are the minimum in Maryland – the exact reason they can brag about their pricing. Yes, practically no coverage at all is cheap.
Just as annoying, Progressive gives awful settlement offers until you sue, 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 which 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 its 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? 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 garbage they do all 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. Continue reading
I sent State Farm a demand package on March 29th. Now, admittedly, I don’t have State Farm “good neighbor” posters in my room, but I’ll give credit where credit is due: State Farm turns demand letters into offers pretty quickly. I’ll tell clients to expect an offer with 60 days, but I’m under-promising and over-delivering – I expect to get an offer much sooner.
Well, it is now almost five months later, and we have gotten nothing but the runaround. So, I got a supervisor on the phone today. He admits the original adjuster is a problem child. To the supervisor’s credit, he read the file in a few hours and called me to argue about it. Usual stuff, he had degenerative changes prior to the accident (setting aside that he had no problems or needed, ah, surgery which he needed after the accident). I’m cool with that; I don’t mind the “your case sucks” banter. The game is the game. Continue reading
Dr. Louis Halikman is an orthopedic doctor that many insurance companies in Maryland – most notably State Farm – frequently used to defend car accident cases. “Frequently” is probably charitable; by his own admission, he makes somewhere between $30,000 and $35,000 a month providing expert services for insurance companies.
Am I a big fan of Dr. Halikman? No, not that I don’t think he is a good doctor. He’s a smart man with good credentials, which is why insurance companies are lined up at his door. Being well paid by one side or the other does not mean the doctor is in bed with that party. But it is my opinion that he either has a philosophical anti-plaintiff animus or, more likely, his opinions are colored because insurance companies have paid for his services on the level they have for the last 25 years.
In my last trial with him, last summer, he claimed that our client was as injured as badly as she was because she was overweight, putting more force on her ankle when she fell. It was such a meanspirited and cheap shot. He also claimed she would have healed faster if she had gotten bariatric surgery to take-off weight. He didn’t give much concern to the mortality risks of the procedure that he wanted to impose on our client. (The jury saw it for what it was and awarded over a half a million dollars.) Continue reading