Insurance company defends policy holder's killer in court

ProgressiveComedian Matt Fisher says: "On June 19, 2010, my sister was driving in Baltimore when her car was struck by another car and she was killed. The other driver had run a red light and hit my sister as she crossed the intersection on the green light… At the trial, the guy who killed my sister was defended by Progressive’s legal team. If you are insured by Progressive, and they owe you money, they will defend your killer in court in order to not pay you your policy." [UPDATE: Progressive denies defending the person who killed its policyholder] [UPDATE 2: Read the comments in Cory's post here. The court records show that Progressive did indeed participate in the killer's legal defense]


  1. Do all insurance companies do this? I am a long-time Progressive customer, and would like to switch. This is disgusting. Capitalism is always at its worst when it comes to matters of life and death.

    1.  Ironically, Progressive’s chairman is a huge donor to progressive causes.   ACLU,, legalizing marijuana, etc.

        1. Would hypocritical be a better choice of words?  Dipshittery?  WTFitude?  Come on, help me out here.  There got to be a correct descriptor for when the guy in charge/ major shareholder espouses lofty ideals but his company is acting downright immoral.

      1.  Hmm, well, Bill Gates gives a lot of money to worthy causes, too. That doesn’t make Microsoft any less evil.

    2. Of course all insurance companies do this.  They will do ANYTHING to get out of paying.  Why is this so shocking.  We need to mandate all insurance companies be not for profit.  either the money gets payed out,  it goes into the pot to a certain cap, or it gets payed back and your next years premiums go down.

      1. If it were otherwise, the government would be infringing on companies’ rights to kill you for profit.

    3. All insurance companies do this. In fact, if you were being defended and perhaps were not guilty you would be singing the praises of the insurance company.

      1. I’m going to start selling insurance against reading comprehension failures. ChicagoD, you shouldn’t apply; I’d hate to have to pay out too quickly.

          1. Mea culpa. I’m sneaking in a ninja edit because the typo bothers me, but you’ve got me dead to rights.

      2. Basically, you’re telling me if I’m a bad driver, I should not pay for insurance because the other guy’s insurance company will protect me in court so that they don’t have to pay my victims. In fact, no one should buy insurance because if you’re not at fault, they won’t pay up, and if you are at fault, you wouldn’t get anything anyway. Sounds like great incentives!

  2. Was expecting to read that the other driver was also insured by Progressive and thus there was really nothing silly going on.  Unfortunately, I was wrong :<

  3. Insurance is the biggest legalized racket of all. And as with most big industries, the laws governing them are written by industry lobbyists. Rather like putting Orson Welles in charge of the Twinkies.

    1. I’m sure they’ll have all those little glitches worked out by the time Medicare gets fully privatized under the Romney/Ryan plan.

  4. Comedian Matt Fisher says: “On June 19, 2010, my sister was driving in Baltimore when her car was struck by another car and she was killed.

    …this bit isn’t very funny

  5. Meanwhile, Progressive’s auto-tweeter is sending to anyone who mentions it – with a picture of Flo’s big dumbass smiling face.

    Edit: It’s since been pulled. The boilerplate text was ‘This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they’ve had to endure. We fully investigated this claim and relevant background, and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations. Again, this is a tragic situation, and we’re sorry for everything Mr. Fisher and his family have gone through.’

    1. Christ, what assholes.
      “and feel we properly handled the claim within our contractual obligations”
      Translation: we did everything we legally could to fuck them over.

        1. I like the part where other people can’t grasp that it wasn’t the defendant’s insurer that defended him in court but the plaintiff’s.

        2. You seem to be missing the fact that Progressive did not insure the defendant.

          Rather, they insured the woman who was killed and, as a result of the defendant’s minimal insurance and the policy the victim held, would have had to pay the woman’s family in the event that the defendant’s guilt was established. As a result, the provided legal consul to the defendant, to avoid paying what they were contractually obligated to if he was found guilty.

        3. Mr ChicagoD, what people are annoyed about is that defendant bought a policy from another company entirely. Progressive was paid by the person that the defendant killed. Progressive hoped that if they proved that their policy holder wasn’t a ‘victim’ they wouldn’t have to pay out on the policy. So, if you negligently kill someone, make sure you pick a Progressive policy holder. You don’t have to pay a penny to an insurance company and your victim will have paid for your defence.

          1. Actually the defendant was insured, just under-insured. His own insurance company paid out their share almost immediately, which tells you something about the open-and-shut nature of the case and just how disgusting Progressive’s actions were.

        4. Sorry, you’re way off on this one. Read the whole story. The only reason they had to take the defendant to court in the first place is that Progressive wouldn’t pay out their share of the claim even though the defendant’s own insurance policy did. The victim’s parents didn’t want to take the defendant to court at all, but it was the only legal means of getting leverage to make their own insurance policy pay up what was due.

          Progressive had no obligation whatsoever to represent the defendant in any way. If they had acted ethically there wouldn’t have been a civil case at all.

    2. It’s downright vulgar how much money these insurance companies spend carpet-bombing the airwaves.  The only message in insurance ads, if any, is about the premiums, and never about delivering the goods when the time comes.  Ever noticed how sometimes in the same commercial break, two or three ads for different insurance companies are aired?

      They also seem to afford fortunes in legal fees, so the real message, as opposed to Auntie Flo’s seemingly innocuous, actually insidious and quite expensive ads, is “I’d rather pay reams of cash to Viacom and my lawyers than my customers, so fuck y’all 99%ers”.  Put that in an ad on Comedy Central, Flo.  Or the actor who played Juno’s father. Or talking lizards.  Or whoever.

  6. Are you *blanking* kidding me?  Are you *blanking* kidding me?

    The entire point of insurance is so that when the crap hits the fan, they pay off.
    They have millions of math majors and computers working out the odds of having to pay off and charge you a rate to make it worth their effort.
    When something tragic happens, they are supposed to pay off unless there was a scam.
    There was no scam, only the death of someone they insured for the unlikely event than an underinsured driver would hit her. 
    The audacity of these sleazes to show up in court to defend the person responsible for her death to cling to a few extra bucks that they accepted the responsibility to pay out when this event occurred.

    And of course we have laws making sure that a corporation can’t be sued to actually honor a contract they willingly issued and took payments for.

    WHAT THE F*&#!

    Why don’t we have a law that says we can void the terms of a credit card debt, because we don’t think we should have to pay the full amount now that we’ve thought about it for a while.


    I look forward to this story going viral and Progressive issuing a statement trying to spin defending the person responsible for a death to avoid paying out as specified in their contract.  How can any state license a company that does this?

    1. You seem to be under some misapprehension. The point of any publicly-held corporate entity is to maximize profit; this is codified in case law. Insurance companies do this by collecting premiums, then not paying out claims. 

      My impression is that this falls out of an economy that is highly geared towards supporting public companies, and perhaps a lack of vigilante justice.

      1. Since you consider this to be “codified in case law,” I’m sure you wouldn’t mind referring to that case law.

        However, the primary reference people give for this claim is Dodge v. Ford Motor Company. The Wikipedia article on that case gives several references and an explanation for why that case does not mean that corporations are required to maximize shareholder wealth / profit, and that the idea that they are is completely incorrect.

        1.  If they don’t have a legal imperative to maximize profits, at least they certainly have an economic imperative to do so, lest their owners abandon their investment and take their money elsewhere.

        2. Either I am incorrect (which I would prefer), or we are speaking past each other. That corps must maximize shareholder value is not a written law, I 100% agree. However, it is my belief that if a company does not seek to maximize profits, they will frequently be sued by their shareholders (even minority shareholders), and thus operationally have such a duty. Ref eBay v. Newmark. 

          I would be happy to be wrong, but in reality, I think that even the threat of a shareholder lawsuit is enough to compel behavior in a corporation. 

          1. It’s my understanding that public companies have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders. Management acts as a kind of investor on behalf of the shareholders’ funds in trust.

            We have to stop villifying companies for doing this. It’s exactly how we programmed them, and continue to. Get mad at their lack of morals, and go to another company with an equal lack of morals?

            No. Change the system.

          2. I would be happy to be wrong, but in reality, I think that even the threat of a shareholder lawsuit is enough to compel behavior in a corporation.

            If they have sufficient discretion to pay their executives $20,000,000 salaries and bonuses, they have sufficient discretion to avoid messes like this.

      2.  Wrong. That’s a fundamental mis-application of how insurance works. Insurance companies are supposed to collect enough money to cover the payouts, plus profit to operate the business. If they didn’t collect enough, their models are wrong and they are running their business poorly.

        This is simple greed, and it’s probably illegal. Greed is not codified. It’s an undercurrent.

    2. Fuct up shit is fuct and bullshit.  I’m wondering what recourse people have…  if you don’t have a billion dollars to hire awesome lawyers, you’re basically stuck in a ditch somewhere.  Insurance companies suck.  I hate dealing with them.  I need to learn to be lawyerly so I can just stick it to ’em when I need to.

      1. Well, everyone who’s insured with Progressive can leave and tell them why they’re leaving. That might do some good, if enough people did it.

        1. Wait until you figure out that every insurance company in the country defends its policy holders in court.

          1. Please read the article. You clearly have a gross misunderstanding of what transpired in this case.

    3. I worked for an insurance company (Transamerica) that made us take some indoctrination courses. They said that insurance was a social contract to spread the risk of life. But of course that was horseshit; insurance companies are profit making organizations that will let people die for a buck. Which does not make them so very different from lots of other companies, like Ford selling exploding Pinto’s.

        1. Yes, the notorious comparison of the cost to fix a known problem (at $11 per car) to the cost of paying off the lawsuits for consumer deaths (at $200k per death) is fully detailed here. The author casts doubt upon it’s relevancy, not it’s existence. Decide for yourself.

  7. I’m with my Fawkes-masked comrade here. What the actual fuck?

    This is simply evil. It’s not strictly illegal (as far as I know), but it’s well beyond immoral. What the actual fuck is wrong with these people? What kind of value system must they live in that they decide that this is in any way a good idea?

    1.  Seriously? You want an insurance company to pay on moral grounds? That caterpillar should never have let you toke on his hookah.

      1. I’d certainly like an insurance company to pay based on moral grounds. I don’t expect them to, but I’d sure as hell like them to.

        I’m surprised by this case though if for no other reason than the fact that it is so blatantly immoral and twisted that the likelihood of this story going viral seems quite large. But hey, I’m sure if they’re an insurance company they’ve already calculated the odds of the story going viral, crunched the numbers of how many new customers they’re likely to deter, how many current customers they’re likely to piss off enough to cause them to switch and decided based on those odds and those figures that it’s worth shitting all over this poor grieving family.

      2. If not moral, then PR. If the insurance market is reasonably well-functioning (which is a huge assumption), they are competing for customers, and cost isn’t the only factor in selecting a provider.

  8. Not surprising that a corporation acts in its best interest. GEICO gives money to states so they can install red-light cameras, for example. When you get a ticket for a traffic violation, they’ll gladly up your premiums.
    American securities law requires that corporations act vigorously in the best interests of their shareholders.  A corporation can get sued by its shareholders if it’s not living up to its fiduciary duty. Paying out claims isn’t in the best interest of any investor.
    Thank your local elected official for this mess.

    1. Uh. I don’t quite understand. Aren’t people who run red lights not actually more prone to cause car accidents?

      1. Either you’ve worded your sentence incorrectly, or you’re arguing that running red lights isn’t likely to cause more accidents. 

        I’d say magicdragonfly is pretty spot on. If you’ve got a bunch of traffic violations against your name, you’ll pay more for your insurance.

        1. Huh, I don’t think I worded it incorrectly after checking again.

          Running red lights should up the payments. It’s a serious transgression in most cases. People who do this are either willfully ignorant and have an overblown sense of entitlement or are scatterbrained. Both are higher risks. Ed

          1. Yes, so you need to remove the ‘not’ from your sentence: “Aren’t people who run red lights not actually more prone to cause car accidents?”.

            I think I get what you are arguing though. People that run red lights deserve to pay more for their insurance. However should it be up to GEICO or any insurance company to maximise the number of people caught for traffic infactions? Probably not, that should probably be left to someone a bit more neutral (of course when police put in speed camera’s etc they’re also frequently accused of revenue raising).

        2. I see the double negative, but strangely enough, it’s didn’t come up as a positive when I re-re-read that sentence. 

          Huh.  And now it does. 

          Okay, I need more coffee.  Horribly night, the kid kept me up every two hours with no hope for a full sleep cycle.

          Regarding the traffic lights: I do not see that fundamentally different from insurers giving courses against work accidents and the like, as long as they limit themselves to giving money and not having any say on the ticketing itself.

      1. If the law encourages corporations to do evil things. Of course, the corporations probably paid to have those laws enacted.

  9. I had to get event insurance for an event once (surprise!). Most companies I contacted wanted nothing to do with the lecture for ‘religious’ reasons. I finally got one to say yes, for $800 for the day. The kicker, she outright told me that if ANYTHING happened, we weren’t covered. IE, if we CLAIMED on the insurance, there was NO insurance. I asked her what she was selling me and she said that it was “Insurance in name only”, so that we are able to fulfill our contract with the event site.
    I got a hold of another company after this, got REAL insurance for $50.

        1.  I hope you told this story to the state Insurance Department.  The states are actually pretty good at rooting out fraud, and this sounds like a possible case.

          1.  In Canada, and no I didn’t. The good news is, it looks like I’ll be doing the same event later on this year, so, I’ll keep them in mind… : )

          1. Funny, that was my first thought. I’ve had the experience of asking a company to put what seemed like a ridiculous policy in writing. I was told–I am not making this up–“It’s part of our policy not to distribute this part of our policy in written form to customers.”

            As you’ve probably guessed I decided it was not part of my policy to do business with them.

  10. They build their tall corporate silos by sticking to the numbers when it is in their favor to do so, and chiseling, weaseling, and wriggling out of any loophole when it isn’t.

    I wonder how the math worked out in comparing the cost of the negligent driver’s legal defense vs. the original payout amount.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a wash financially, although certainly not in the karma department.

  11. All insurance companies do this, but – and this is actually an important distinction – to a greater or lesser degree.  They do as much as the Law, Public Relations, and their directors’ and upper management’s consciences will allow. Which is often, as in this case, quite heinously far.

    In this instance, though, I believe Progressive is about to get a firm lesson in the second of these constraints, as they behold the awesome power of the internets.

    Or, at least, I really hope so.

      1. And there are attorneys who specialize in suing insurance companies for fair value on the claim on behalf of the insured. Back in the 90s, my co-worker lost her $400K house in a fire and her insurance company tried to give her $100K. She sued and won.

        1. Thank you, I needed to hear something like that and am intrigued.
          Do you have any idea what was the lawyer’s fee for this service?

          1. I think that it was the usual third of the settlement, but the insurer had to pay it. Many, if not most, insurance companies these days won’t insure you unless you sign an arbitration clause, but it’s pretty much impossible to stop a lawsuit.

        2.  Sometimes it seems like the courts are the only part of American government where the people have any chance of a fair shake, anymore.

  12. If you sue your own insurance company, they will defend themselves – what’s the surprise there? Do we actually expect that just because one perosn says its someones fault, everyone should agree without challenge? People act as if suing or defending a lawsuit in court is somehow a reprehensible act in and of itself; it’s not. It is the court system determining and apportioning blame. It’s not perfect, but it is as close to justice as any system on the planet.

    1. Progressive didn’t defend itself from a lawsuit (directly).  Progressive defended a negligent driver who killed a young woman – a women who was one of their insureds.

      1. Progressive was being held liable for the damages of the other driver; the policy holder was effectively suing their own insurance company. In my mind, a claim of liability by the policy holder should not simply be accepted and paid simply because it is the policy holder making the claim – a challenge is not only prudent but necessary in the interest of justice.

        1.  Yes, it appears Progressive was being held liable for the other driver AS PER HER CONTRACT WITH THEM, which would pay in the event of an incident like this. So, they’re defending themselves against fulfilling their contract.

          1. If you read the full description of the case by this guy, youll see that there is actually some question about whether the driver that killed his sister was at fault. The contract between Progressive and the woman who was killed was apparently one that covered only an accident in which the other driver was at fault, and for which he was under-insured. In such a case, one can’t simply expect that the insurance company is going to not question the cause of the accident or the fault of the driver, and in this case that puts them in the admittedly odd position of having to defend the other driver. It may not seem right, but without a vigorous defense the other driver wouldnt get a fair trial, and the consequences of that would be that the insurance company would be the one stuck with the bill. Defending the driver is defending themselves, and that’s how courts work; where there is a dispute, there are arguments on both sides and the jury (or judge) decides who is at fault. There is nothing wrong with that system. In fact, without that system, there could be no contracts in the first place.

        2. This is actually a very good point. In effect, this absurd and, frankly, evil outcome is in no small part due to the very dumb Maryland law forbidding policy holders from suing their insurers. While the US certainly has issues with an overabundance of law suits, laws forbidding bringing a suit against certain people (usually corporate “people”) are almost invariably crooked.

          The law rendered it such that the insurance company was effectively defending itself. That would seem to make Progressive’s actions slightly less malicious but, considering that the law is almost certainly the result of lobbying on the behalf of insurers, I’m still not inclined to look upon them as blameless.

          1. I disagree somewhat with your conclusion. To me it makes perfect sense that if you’re trying to collect from your insurance company based on someone else’s negligence (which has not been established), the person who is being charged with negligence should be in the room as well, and that actually it’s that person that you should be suing. Otherwise that person wouldn’t have an opportunity to defend themself against a charge of negligence. Can you imagine a situation where there was a trial in which you were found negligent and you weren’t even notified that the trial was happening, or of the outcome? That would be kafkaesque.

          2. That would be kafkaesque.

            That’s rich coming from someone who’s bending over backward to defend a corporation trying to subvert the justice system in order to weasel out of its obligations to its paying customer.

          3. @waetherman:disqus  The problem is that the sister in the story paid for insurance coverage in the case of an underinsured driver. The insurance company did not deliver on this coverage. If the facts are as they say (one witness, said the victim had the light), then the family should not have to sue anyone to get the coverage they contracted for.

            The point of contracts is to avoid lawsuits by allocating the risks ahead of time. By paying increased premiums, the victim is allocating the risk of an underinsured driver to the insurance company (the insurance company pays up, then tries to collect from the other driver. So to your Kafaesque point, the other driver gets an opportunity to defend himself in court against the insurance company, as it should be.).  Of course, the insurance contract should not cover instances where the victim is at fault. However, if you have to go to court in every claim to prove you are not at fault, then the coverage is meaningless and the policy is a scam. I applaud Fisher for informing the public about this scam.

      2. “Defended a negligent driver” is a funny phrase. Until you have a trial, how do you know he’s negligent? 

        This comedian sure sounds like he’s try to be objective in telling us the story, but let’s face it – if your sister was killed, would you be able to objectively report on whether it could have been her fault? 

        There have been enough times when I’ve heard one side of a story, and thought the conclusion was obvious, and then heard the other side and changed my mind (and then heard the first side’s rebuttal and changed my mind again!) that I make it a point never to form a conclusion based on only one side’s telling of the facts. (Of course Boing Boing would be pretty Boring Boring if it had the same policy.)

          1. No, the article clearly says that the first insurance company settled without a trial – there was no establishment of negligence. That would make sense if the insurance amount was low; assuming the guy only had the minimum policy, it would only pay $30,000 on the accident and having a trial to determine negligence would probably double that cost, so of course the first company decided to settle. But the sister has a rider on her policy that covers the other driver’s negligence up to say $1,000,000 (this number is undisclosed in the article), so her estate tries to collect that. Now insurance company 2 is being asked for $1,000,000 and there has been no establishment of negligence. They can’t be expected to just hand over a million dollars without establishing the facts, and the only way to establish the facts once and for all is to do it in court.

          2. @waetherman

            The trial was a real shitshow for my parents, and I did not love it either. As it happens, the jury did find that the other driver was negligent, which, if justice or decency are priorities for Progressive, will result in them finally honoring Katie’s policy. At this point, I hope you’ll forgive me if I wait for it to actually happen.

        1. “Until you have a trial, how do you know he’s negligent?”

          Exactly right, and succinctly put.

          1.  Did you read the linked article?  They sued the driver. There was a trial. The jury found negligence.

          2. The trial was unnecessary from the start, Progressive could have paid out a settlement immediately just like the driver’s own insurance company did.

      3. You’re confusing the lawsuits – the first insurance company settled without going to trial, therefore there was no actual determination of negligence: “the other guy’s insurance company looked at the situation and settled with my sister’s estate basically immediately”. The trial that you cite as the “shitshow” is the one that the family had to bring against the driver, who was then defended by Progressive. Once again, this was necessary to determine negligence. Of course, Progressive could have just settled and not raised a question of negligence, but as the writer of the article admits, “I don’t discount the possibility that Katie was at fault in the accident… The totality of the evidence left some room for argument [of whether the driver was negligent” so I don’t really see any wrongdoing on the part of Progressive for raising the question. In the end the jury found negligence on the part of the driver, and Progressive will have to pay. Justice prevails.

        1. Progressive could have also raised the question of negligence and then let the party at fault find their own defense – raising the question is doing their due diligence as an insurance company, defending the driver who was at fault (who had no connection with Progressive other than this as far as I can tell) so that they wouldn’t have to pay is just dickishness.

          1. True, but how would that work in real life? The driver at fault would find himself being sued, but because he is, in effect, “judgment proof” (unable to pay) he would just not bother to defend himself. Whether he was found negligent wouldn’t really matter to him. So the insurance company’s fate would be determined by someone who had no real interest in the lawsuit. 

        2. I’m guessing you’re a lawyer.  To the layperson “Justice prevails” in this case means “the lawyers on both sides make buckets of money off of human tragedy and drag a greiving family through the muck of a long and grueling trial.”

          1. IAAL – or at least I used to be. I understand people’s frustration with the US legal process and the apparent capriciousness of it. It really is the worst justice system in the world, except for all the others.

    2. People act as if suing or defending a lawsuit in court is somehow a reprehensible act in and of itself; it’s not. It is the court system determining and apportioning blame.

      The world should not revolve around lawsuits.

      1.  Suing the large corporations is the only way we “little people” can defend ourselves. I know you hate the discussion to get political, but the GOP (in the U.S.) has been touting tort reform for many years now simply to protect corporations from any responsibility they owe to citizens (consumers). Without the power to sue the corps. people are screwed.

      2. That’s like saying “we should live in a world without disagreements” – and while that certainly would be nice, it’s not realistic.

        1.  It should however be unnecessary for every disagreement to turn into an expensive legal affair – some things would be better solved by unambiguous regulations or neutral third-party arbitrators.

          1. That’s just bizarre. People reach resolutions without lawsuits all the time. This lawsuit represents a corporation trying to avoid its obligations to its customers.

          2. Well perhaps I was overly broad – this is the internet, after all, where one must speak in sweeping generalizations – something I think we have both done. Perhaps it would have been better to say “where there are two parties who cannot reach an agreement, and yet an agreement must be reached for the sake of justice, the best option is to have the matter settled by a neutral third party. In our legal system, that responsibility falls ultimately  to the court system, which is called to action through the filing of a lawsuit…” But that’s a bit long-winded.

            You keep framing this as an obligation that Progressive had to its customer, but Progressive had no such obligation until it was shown that the driver of the other vehicle was negligent and not able to pay the damages. There was no finding of negligence before the lawsuit. Could Progressive simply have yielded on the question of negligence and paid the claim? Sure, but I don’t think they should be faulted (and vilified) for wanting to look at the facts. Just because the driver’s original insurance settled does not mean that there was any sort of investigation or that Progressive should have an obligation to pay without their own investigation and determination of negligence. And that’s exactly what was determined by the court case. 

            As for your last comment (above) about me “bending over backward to defend a corporation trying to subvert the justice system in order to weasel out of its obligations” I don’t think that’s the case at all. What I’ve been trying to do is provide an understanding of the way that the court system works, and why it’s not only reasonable but necessary. I’ve tried to do this in contrast to those on this board who have frothed themselves to a ferver about the evils of insurance corporations without much thought to what it actually means for an insurance company to have an obligation to its client. And I’ve tried to do that with clear, reasoned arguments instead of vitriol and ad hominem attacks. I only wish you as moderator would do the same.

  13. Does anyone know an insurance company that won’t do something like this? I’m genuinely curious.

    Progressive is being singled out for criticism here, but I suspect this case would be treated the same way by any “good” insurance company (USAA comes to mind). I’m NOT saying this is a good thing, just wondering if it is abnormal behavior.

    Insurance companies will aggressively defend against any personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit that is not 100% (and I do mean 100%) cut and dried. They will spend as much money as the policy is worth to defend it (e.g. if you have a $5 million balloon policy, they will spend $5 million to defend a personal injury case against you). Any legal precedents supporting broader personal injury claims are anathema to insurers. This is a different situation, however.

  14. How to the students loans factor in on this? The text made it appear to me, as if the parents would have to pay them off. 

    Do they? 

    1. Yes or maybe.  There was a big brouhaha about that last year.  Death does not necessarily erase student loans.  That’s one of the reasons that our student loan system is considered rather toxic.

      1. We don’t really have anything like it. Usually debts die with the estate and if people forego the inheritance (*) , they forgo the debt, too. But it is my understanding that co-signing is common for student loans, so I was wondering.

        (*) in those cases, things of no significant commercial but emotional value are still legal property of the heirs, I think, so they cannot be held hostage for thousands of dollars in exchange of a beaten clock and family photos.

        1. Here, you can take someone’s dog if you’re mean enough.

          This was a high profile case from a few years ago, which was eventually forgiven after a great deal of negative publicity.

        2. Debt does die with the estate but it’s nigh impossible to get a student loan without a co-signer.  The parents co-sign the loan, the debtors can go after the parents if the child dies/defaults/etc. 

  15. This isn’t unusual behaviour for an insurance company, sadly. Some senile old fool killed a friend of mine by U-turning in front of his motorbike with no warning, and the insurance company’s lawyer popped up in court to utterly trash the dead guy’s riding, reputation, record and general character in front of his widow, parents and friends. Nice. 

    In this case it didn’t reduce the payout, but it did mean that the dangerous, and unrepentant, motorist was back behind the wheel much more quickly. Thanks for that.

  16. I don’t know if it would help in this case, but I would recommend anyone having trouble with an insurance company to send a letter of complaint (and cc: the insurance company) to their state insurance regulator. I had a family member (who happened to live in Maryland) who did so and the insurance company quickly reevaluated the case and made amends.

  17. Having trouble getting angry about this without knowing who it was. It’s hard to say “Progressive, I’ll never buy insurance with you, because I heard on the internet that you totally hosed this guy’s family who had a sister who died.”

    I guess I could say “You hosed the family of Matt Fisher’s sister”, but that still doesn’t sound right.

    1. On average, we’re tribal, and most can’t seem to move beyond that.  For that reason, I think we’re toast

      I’m talking averages here.  Some humans don’t need an immediate connection to feel compassion for others, but they seem to be a small enough segment of the population to make no substantial difference. 

  18. There’s a lot of misunderstanding of our insurance and legal systems here. Defending you is part of what you (and the miscreant driver) pay an insurance company to do. They would be in violation of their contract if they refused to do so. And in US trials, everybody gets a legal defense no matter how guilty they appear to be. I’m sorry about your family’s tragedy and don’t mean to minimize it. But Progressive did nothing improper here.

    1.  the negligent driver did not pay Progressive anything. Progressive defended the negligent driver rather than pay their claim against the deceased insured, who did pay Progressive a premium.

    2. Their contract was with the victim. They had no legal relationship with the defendant. They were helping him out of the goodness of their hearts and the fact if they got him off for negligent driving they could get out of their contractual need to pay their policy holder’s family. Progressive were trying to get out of fulfilling their side of a contract by forcing a family to relieve a loved-one’s death. If you are a Progressive policy holder every dollar you give them is money for the defence of someone who negligently kills you.

    3. There’s a lot of misunderstanding of our insurance and legal systems here.

      There’s apparently not a lot of RTFA here.

  19. This is how uninsured motorist insurance works, and it is not unique to Progressive. The other driver had very little auto liability coverage, probably the legal minimum. His carrier decided it was more cost-effective to cut its losses and pay the full amount of the policy rather than pay for a trial. If the writer’s sister hadn’t had UM insurance, that would have probably been the end of it, and the family would not have gotten anything except the measly minimum limits. The UM carrier then has the right to step into the shoes of the other driver’s auto liability carrier and conduct the trial. This is all expressly spelled out in the UM policy and should have been explained by the family’s lawyer–if he’s even minimally competent, he understands this perfectly. Now I’m not one to defend corporate America, and it may well have been that Progressive should have settled a claim of clear liability (although the writer seems not to think so), but there’s nothing per se scandalous about a policyholder’s own UM carrier defending the other driver after his carrier paid its limits. UM insurance is not life insurance. The writer’s sister had the right to buy that, and for all we know she did.

    1. They may have the right to do so, but do they have the duty? In this case it was a negligent driver who ran a red light. Progressive could have decided that the evidence was pretty clear and spared the victim’s family further trauma and cost. After all the victim used to be nice enough to give them money.

      1. Well sure, but you could say that about any insurance claim. They could have decided that there was clear liability, but they didn’t. If they were wrong about that and frivolously defended the case in bad faith or refused to pay after a court judgment, that’s a very different story, but short of that, they’re just adjusting a claim like any other insurance company. The fact that the driver’s insurer paid its limits does not mean that liability was clear. It just means that they cut their losses. They had less exposure because the other driver presumably had the minimum limits and the defense costs would probably have exceeded that. But Progressive probably had higher limits, so things looked different to them. Yes, it would have been nice if they had just paid money, but that’s not how insurance works, and everyone knows that on the front end. I know that this sounds heartless given the horrible tragedy that happened, and my heart goes out to Fisher and his family (and fuck SUVs, by the way; this probably wouldn’t have happened if both of them had been driving Insights), but this is the reality of how UM insurance works, and it’s what you get when you buy it.

  20. As with health insurance, car insurance is effectively mandatory (at least, if you own a car), and so there should be no place for profits and private business. It should be run by the government as a public service. Anything else just leads to disgusting examples like this.

    1. Some states do.  I was told that Texas does or did provide very good low cost driving insurance if you were otherwise completely uninsurable. 

  21. This article discussed more about why Progressive would do this, including Maryland using  Contributory Negligent in civil suits – it you are found even 1% at fault for the accident you don’t get your payout. A lot of other states  you can be up to 50% at fault. You won’t get the full amount but the amount for the percentage you weren’t at fault for. I know there are plenty of times insurance companies can and will screw you over and that may be what happened here but we don’t know the whole story with this particular case. It also seems that the laws in place in Maryland (and most likely other states) should be discussed as part of what led to this.

  22. I was shocked at first, but after thinking about it, not so much–if you accept that an insurance company can sell policies that pay out only if the insured is not negligent, then they have to be able to legally determine negligence.   Which is what they were doing here. 

    1. There were two insurance companies involved in this case: the negligent driver’s and the victim’s. The insurance company for the former took one look at the facts and decided to settle almost immediately. The insurance company for the latter fought tooth and nail to avoid paying anything—dragging everyone through a miserable, protracted legal battle in the process.

      Describing this in terms of “they did what any reasonable insurance company would do” is complete bullshit, because if that was the case then the defendant’s insurance company would have fought the claim too.

      1. The negligent driver’s insurance company probably figured that since they were only liable for the minimal amount that the guy was insured for, it was cheaper to pay it than to fight in court. Since Progressive were then on the hook for the rest, their sum worked out differently. I don’t believe that ethics or morals would have come into play for either of them. It’s just money.

        “Should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don’t do one.”

    2.  True, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suck for doing it.  Many things are legal, but nor moral. 

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