Matt Fisher: Progressive Insurance is lying, they did too defend my sister's killer

Yesterday, Mark posted Progressive Insurance's denial that it had represented the driver who killed one of its policy holders, in an effort to getting out of paying a claim. Now, Matt Fisher, the brother of the dead woman, has posted a scathing rebuttal, which begins by noting:

At the beginning of the trial on Monday, August 6th, an attorney identified himself as Jeffrey R. Moffat and stated that he worked for Progressive Advanced Insurance Company. He then sat next to the defendant. During the trial, both in and out of the courtroom, he conferred with the defendant. He gave an opening statement to the jury, in which he proposed the idea that the defendant should not be found negligent in the case. He cross-examined the plaintiff’s witnesses. On direct examination, he questioned all of the defense’s witnesses. He made objections on behalf of the defendant, and he was a party to the argument of all of the objections heard in the case. After all of the witnesses had been called, he stood before the jury and gave a closing argument, in which he argued that my sister was responsible for the accident that killed her, and that the jury should not decide that the defendant was negligent.

PREMIUM FISHER | Today, in response to my blog post... (via Wil Wheaton)


    1. This makes me wish corporations really were people, because I would like to kick Progressive in the crotch.

    1. BECAUSE WE PAY THEM VERY HANDSOMELY TO. . *Picardfacepalm.jpg*

      And because they spend millions of dollars on advertising to persuade us it’s their job to help us. At the BEST, they’re lying to us if they then turn around and nakedly pursue their own interests ahead of those of the customer.

      There’s healthy cynicism and then there’s just cutting off your nose to spite your face.

      1. Perhaps I should have phrased my comment better.  Despite the fact that Progressive’s job IS to help people, they shouldn’t be expected to.  Their main purpose after all is to make money.

        1. Even if you really believe this (that insurance has no essential social function that is as important as simply making money), this case will probably end up costing them a significant amount in lost business.

          To recap the salient points, from a “purely business” perspective:

          1) They could have worked out a decent settlement with the family and saved some of that $760K.  (Who knows, maybe they could have gotten away with half as much.)  They chose not to, gambling that by going to court they might be able to pay nothing.

          2) They LOST in court.

          3) Now on top of that the gamble will cost them some business due to bad PR, since from a customer’s perspective no one would want to be treated this way.

          So, they don’t seem to be very good at the insurance business, do they.  This was a big lose. Saying to yourself, “oh yeah, of course it makes sense to resist paying out” overlooks these two costs (#1 and #3).

        2. Corporations who have shareholders as owners do always put their interests — profits — first and foremost. This case highlights that this model of organization works poorly for insurance because there is an inherent conflict of interest between shareholders (who want to minimize claims paid out) and policyholders (who want their risks to be… ya know… insured?).

          There are insurance companies that are organized in a way to avoid this conflict of interest simply by being owned by the policyholders: mutual insurance. Progressive is most notably not on that list.

    2. Because that’s the premise that consumer-grade insurance is sold on.  The premise is that you’ll pay up front, and if you’re unlucky and have to use your insurance, it’ll be there for you.

      If you were an American (I can’t tell from your name, so I won’t start with that assumption) you’d be able to complete the following advertising jingles/slogans almost instantly, because at this point you’d have heard them thousands of times.

      1: “Like a good neighbor, hmm hmm hmm hmmm.”
      2: “Hmm hmm hmm hmm with Allstate.”
      3: “Nationwide hmm hmm hmm hmmm.”


      1: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”
      2: “You’re in good hands with Allstate.”
      3: “Nationwide is on your side.”

      That’s the premise.  The reality of the fine print is so shockingly different that it’s worth highlighting, as in this case.

      1. He identifies as being from/in  Missoula, MT.

        Regarding your songs: They are the same in Germany. 

        “Keine Sorge, Volksfürsorge” (do not care, we care for y’all)

        is something nearly any German in my age group would rather sing than speak.

        And all the recent ads I saw (don’t watch much ad-tv) I either make it appear that being insured by them prevent accidents (at best) or that payment and repair happen in a blink of an eye (at worst).

      2. The basic brunt of all their ads is:

        Look at us, we’re so human, just like you carbon-based suckers… erm, folks.
        Goofy and sometimes even awkward.  So give us your currencies, you can trust us!

    3.  Dear Soren
           I would appreciate reading your analysis of the situation. I’ll be done making popcorn in 5 minutes. Try to wear glitter, I give extra points for glitter.

        1. Cynicism like this is what keeps people at home on Election Day.  It promotes a culture in which executives, and everybody else, have incentive to commit whatever crimes they can get away with.  Is it foolish to demand integrity in the 21st Century?

        2. You’ve done an excellent job of identifying the problem. Do you have any suggestions for a solution or are you just going to keep sitting in the stands throwing popcorn?

        3. If an insurance always tries to weasle its way out of claims, then how does it get premiums? It’s the for-profit incentive of a corporation that makes these facts incredible.

          1.  Because, by law, you need it. You can’t legally drive without insurance, so they have you by the short hairs. You have to pay and then they can do whatever they like when it comes time to pay up.

          2. @Vickie Kostecki
            That’s untrue, in CA you can insure yourself if a surety bond:

            Not everyone is able to do it but there are other options.

          3. @google-733fb19d4fb57247c1522a0ad51461c2:disqus Last time I shopped for car insurance, there were a lot of different options. It’s not like health insurance where the market is more limited. No one is forced to buy Progressive when you can have State Farm, GEICO, E-surance, or whatever.

        4. Is this acceptable? Profit is fine. But when corporations become predatory, or negligent, then they need to be slapped down.

          And since predatory, negligent, and weaselly is the default state for corporations, they not only need to be slapped down, but they need to be restrained. By regulation. Always.

          The main problem with corporations is that because it’s a mob, individuals within it can deny responsibility for illegal or unethical actions or policies enacted by the corporation in the name of profit. So some slimy, indecent act that any one person wouldn’t do for fear of shaming at the least, and possibly prison, can still be accomplished through the legal machinations of corporate policy.

        5. Given that they profit on the basis of people not making claims, and not refusing to pay out on them, this statement is invalid.

          Sure, they should make sure that it’s a valid claim, but that’s as far as the ‘weaseling’ should ever go. Otherwise it’s bad business, not profit maximisation.

    4. Your comment does highlight the fact that corporate media has been extraordinarily successful in convincing people that corporations don’t owe anything to their clients despite having been paid by them. There are always comments saying that the purpose of companies is to make money, but I don’t really see why the ‘making money’ side of the transaction is valid but the ‘providing service’ side isn’t.

      1. He was talking about “helping”. Private insurers aren’t about helping, they are about fulfilling contractual obligations.  

        1. I went to their website to see if they had any kind of promissory language that I could use against them, and it was sort of an un-website.  It’s basically just the first page of a quote calculator.  It’s so magnificently uncompelling, I wonder if they’ve stripped it down like that just so that nobody can find any promises to use against them later.

          1. Awesome, seriously. I never would have thought to look.  As consumers, it’s our duty to seek out the best value proposition.  It’s hard work, and most of us, self included, do not do it.  A sucker is born every minute.  I always felt this way about Geico, Progressive, etc… after tangling with SMALL insurers after people wrecked my cars… and having such a hard time.  I projected that it would suck wall sockets to deal with even bigger money-grubbers.  I can understand the urge to pay lower rates, though.  The problem is that unless you have a lawyer and put up a fight, you just have to take what they give you.

      2.  The more people who learn about this case, the less (hopefully…) customers Progressive will have. And just maybe the money lost  will make it worthwhile for companies like Progressive to  consider compassion an important aspect of business.


        But thanks, BB, for posting this.

    5. If progressive sold cupcakes, and after you paid for you cupcake they gave you nothing and stared awkwardly at you and repeated any questions you asked them (you: “Am I going to get my cupcake?” Progressive:”Are you?”) would you also ask if it were their job to provide people with cupcakes?
      Are you arguing that it’s their job to get us to pay them, and our job to realize that it’s greedy to expect them to deliver a promised product?
      Are you trolling or do you not understand commerce?

      1.  “Give me my fucking CUPCAKE ASSHOLE!”  THAT is precisely how you have to deal with insurance companies on a pay-out, even if it’s not your fault.  I have had to do this a number of times and it sucks.

        1.  I’m insured with Geico, and I’ve never had any trouble with them. Granted, In 10 years I’ve hit one deer been the victim of a parking lot scrape and run and had one windshield chip to solve, but… that’s my mileage.  I called them, they told me where to take the car to get it fixed. It got fixed. As attractive as ALL those commercials are that promise me I’ll pay less with Progressive, Allstate, Nationwide, whoever, I just don’t have a GOOD incentive to switch yet. Maybe I do pay a little more, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.

      2. My father is a real-estate attorney and was a representative of a title insurance company. At closing, something that was missed in the title was brought forward (some easement, whatever) and the claimant wanted it resolved for $11k. My father called the insurance company, copped to the goof, and said they should pay it. They refused. He noted he was their local representative and that the claim was valid. They instead flew lawyers in from a thousand miles away, got in front of a judge about a month later, who laughed them out of court in about 45 minutes; making them pay the $11k, the extra month of accruals on the delayed closing, the defendants legal fees and whatever else she could find to whonk them with.

        At times it seems insurance companies are in the business of collecting checks and making colossal assholes out of themselves.

    6.  Because that’s the job Progressive freely agreed to do when they signed that contract with their policyholder. If Progressive didn’t want to do that job, they shouldn’t’ve signed that contract.

      I often don’t feel like doing the work I agreed to do when I went to work for my boss. But if I expect him to pay me like he agreed to then I’d better do that work anyway.

  1. This is turning into a lot of he-said, Flo-said, and I’m not seeing a lot of hard evidence either way. Court documents are usually public, right? Can’t someone dig up some notes from this trial (which evidently just concluded) and see what’s actually going on?

      1. That’s not helping much either. If this is the case, it’s listing Progressive as an interested party, and Robert F. Kessler, Esq. (of a different law firm) as the defendant’s lawyer. It shows Progressive was definitely involved in the case, but not how.

        EDIT: Nevermind. I scrolled down a bit. See this:

        “It is this 19th day of May, 2011, by the Circuit Court For Baltimore City, hereby ORDERED
        1. That Progressive Advance Insurance Company be and is hereby allowed to intervene as a party Defendant.
        2. That Progressive Insurance Company is GRANTED all rights to participate in this proceeding as if it were an original party to this case.”

        Yeah, that’s dark.

        1. They’re also mentioned in the judgement —

          Judgment in favor of the Pltfs. Joan Fisher, Personal Representative of the Estate of Kaitlynn E. Fisherand Joan and Stephen Fisher, as Parents of Kaitlynn E. Fisher, deceased and against the Deft’s. Ronald Kevin Hope, III and Progressive Advanced Insurance Co. in the amount of $760,000.00. plus costs.

          1. One thing I don’t understand – do they really save that much money by hiring a lawyer? They’re basically gambling here. Wouldn’t it be much simpler, given how little they have to pay (comparatively to the most likely indecent benefits they make – I don’t have the data), to just not risk having to pay the lawyer PLUS what they were supposed to pay in the first place, on the off-chance that they *might* get out of it?

            It just seems to me like a waste of time, energy, and money.

          2. @boingboing-924fecb384bc32c5cfdbde1cef1f7b8d:disqus , I wouldn’t be surprised if they retain an army of lawyers full-time at a fixed bulk rate, so fielding one to interfere in a court case might not actually cost them any extra.

          3.  This post in reply to Peppermint: It sets precedent. That and long lawsuits simply wear people out or the companies can outspend and out lawyer the plaintiffs.

          4. @Peppermint:
            There’s likely an algorithm used.  They often won’t go to court for a few thousand, but as it gets higher, the parameters change.

          5. @Peppermint – Indeed, after an accident people often need money quickly (i.e. for medical bills, etc.).  Better the $150K now rather than a million you may possibly see 5 years down the road.

            I think it would make a great media story.  Find 10-20 heavily insured victims and tell their insurance experiences.  Would certainly be enlightening (and great PR for the firms that paid out decently).

            Of course, might not make up for the fact that their premiums might have to be 20-30% higher.

          6. @boingboing-924fecb384bc32c5cfdbde1cef1f7b8d:disqus I was the defendant in an insurance lawsuit a few years ago.  I was represented by an attorney whose letterhead read “A, B, and C law firm”, but whose office was within my insurance company’s building. 
             “A, B, and C law firm” was a wholly owned subsidiary of InsCo and my attorney was an InsCo employee, as I understand it.

      1. But they didn’t! 
        They denied the very specific allegation that they served as attorney for the defendant (which is absolutely true) and hoped people would assume that meant they didn’t participate at all.

  2. shifty lying company tries to weasel out of paying for a product the customer paid for.
    Sure why should Progressive put the customer who makes their profit possible put them before that profit?
    Soren = Troll and/or Progressive shill

    1. I don’t like what Soren said either, but surely you can do better than to assume he’s insincere just because he disagrees with you. I freaking hate it when people’s first recourse against a controversial opinion is to cry “Troll! Troll!”

      Have you considered just, you know, debating the guy? As if we were in some kind of civil society or something, and not just conflicting tribes of monkeys? Give it to him good and hard, for all I care you can insult his mama, but don’t just slap a label on him and pretend that means you don’t have to deal with him, FFS!

      I am sure you are a good person giving into your frustration just like the rest of us, but I am getting so fucking sick of these thought-terminating cliches. This is why humans can’t have nice things. :(

      1. honestly no I don’t think a debate would prove useful with anyone who can’t see that the client of an insurance company deserves (and has paid for) better than the way Progressive has acted in this case.

      2.  I like how you used a ‘sad’ emoticon to finish a paragraph which derided the concept of “thought-terminating cliches.” I totally have to watch TCITW now, just to wash my eyeballs.

      1. despicable actions need to confronted not accepted – in the name of profit is not acceptable to me.

        sorry that should be in the name of profit – an nowt else – is not acceptable to me

        1. Something can be scandalous without being surprising, you know. I’m not surprised of that development. I find it disgusting, morally wrong, and it hurts my practical sense so much my brain hurts… But is it surprising? Sadly… No.

          1. I don’t find the actions of companies maximizing profit surprising – I do find consumers willing acceptance of those actions to be.

      2. This is a meme and not necessarily accurate. Some corporations hold themselves to a higher level of accountability to their clients and may do better financially in the long run because of it. Pillage is, admittedly, a pretty popular business model at the moment, but it’s not the only one.

        1. I agree that it’s not necessarily accurate, but I haven’t yet found an insurance company that doesn’t fit the stereotype. Does anyone know of any insurance companies that have a record of not taking that pillage mentality? I’d love to switch to them.

          1. What is the mentality of people starting insurance companies? Are they like most people, “Gee, I wish I had purpose and meaning to my life, I’m going to try to make the world better by helping people.”? Or are they more like “MUST MAKE MORE MONEY TO SPAWN MORE OVERLORDS”?

          2. I’ve only ever made a few claims, but they’ve all been painless.

            In fact over my lifetime (so far) I think I might have even profited from insurance.  Insurance companies make money from people that don’t make claims, not from denying legitimate claims.  Hence no-claims bonuses, etc.

          3. I used to have auto insurance through AAA. When I finally made a claim after 15 years of paying premiums, they treated me like a panhandler harassing them for change.

          4. This is in the UK, not sure if things are any different here but can only speak from personal experience.

            My pet insurance is like an open till, I actually feel a little bad for them – they didn’t know what they were getting into insuring my dog.

          5. I’m with 21st Century.  I’ve had a total of five claims over three decades with them.  Three were glass coverage, one involved a neighbor hitting my parked car, and the last was a collision.  In every case 21st handled things quickly and well, and they never tried to screw with me.

            Insurance companies are a business; they provide a service in exchange for payment.  If they don’t provide the service, they don’t get paying customers.  Progressive has just demonstrated that they’ll try their hardest to avoid providing the service they’re paid to provide.  I hope it costs them dearly, both because they deserve it and pour encourager les autres, as the saying goes.

      3. I submit that “surprised” is not the correct word. What a lot of people here are is disgusted. Yes, the people who run corporations try to maximize profit. But they are still supposed to act like people. 

        Corporations are not people. They are made up of people but they are not individuals themselves. The fallacy that a corporation has its own personality or psychology is propaganda produced by the sociopathic people running the show to justify themselves and their inhumane decision-making: “It wasn’t me! It was the company!” 

        Unfortunately, they adeptly lobbied to insure laws view things this way too so when they decide to let people be maimed, injured, sickened and even killed in their pursuit of profits they aren’t held personally accountable.

        Perhaps that’s what people in here are on about. It does no good to say “greedy is as greedy does” and shrug. It does good to draw attention to it say, “this is bad and they should feel bad.”

        1. I’m fine with legal personhood for corporations (I like to imagine that this legal precedent will in the future prevent parts of your brain from being tried/sentenced separately in court, which – while logical – would be icky). The problem is to make sure the consequences corporations face for crime are SCALED properly. 
          I mean, just because it would be a logistical nightmare to put a corporation in jail doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be DONE. It just means the corporation itself should foot the bill for said logistics.
          Also, punitive fines should be scaled according to what the criminal makes in a month. This may mean that a company could face a multi-million-dollar bill for littering, which is, again, OK. Pollution is basically littering on a large scale, after all.

      4. Soren some corporations maximize profits by protecting and enhancing the market they operate within. Progressive in this instance poisons their own well. 

        How does -that- maximize profits?

      5. Your points are valid, however it wouldn’t be damn depressing if it weren’t for one point.  Most US states require you to carry insurance if you are driving a vehicle on public roads.  If you get a mortgage, the lender will require homeowner’s insurance, etc…  So not only do you as an individual not not have a choice to pay into the racket they call “insurance”, you can be guaranteed that when and if you need it, they will find every available avenue to not compensate you.

        Sure they’re in business to make money, most people are.  That doesn’t divorce them from the slogans the use to entice customers to trust them in the case of something catastrophic happening.  See:  Hurricane Katrina.

      6. I have a stock comment that I often paste in response to the “Is anybody really surprised?” guy’s comment.  It really is a common comment.   Basically I never understand what the comment’s purpose is.  It presumes that people are surprised, which is usually not the case.  The comment invites us to accept the story as the unfortunate norm and just kind of shut up about it.  That doesn’t seem like a very useful stance.  Maybe in some sense the “Is anybody really surprised?” guy thinks he is educating shocked, non-cynical people that bad things happen every day or something… in which case I would like to inform “Is anybody really surprised?” guy that almost all of the people reading his comment already know this.  There are probably half a dozen reasons “Is anybody really surprised?” guy posts his comment, but I can’t think of any time when I was like “This comment meaningfully contributes to this discussion, I am glad he commented on the presumed surprise of the other participants!”

      7. I’m actually surprised they chose a strategy which is unlikely to maximize profits, given that 1) the internet exists and 2) there is a lot of competition in the car insurance market.

  3. Of course a lot of the outrage is directed at Progressive. The problem is that they’re just the most stupid insurance company doing this. I can bet you the rest of them are as well. Or worse.

    And if the court has proven no negligence, does it matter who represented whom? Surely the jury would weigh all the evidence presented and reach a conclusion. I agree it’s a shitty thing for them to do but if they hadn’t been there the outcome should have been the same. Or are we basically saying that the American legal system is controlled by who can afford the most expensive legal team. In which case the outrage should be directed at the legal system not Progressive.

    1. just because the industry norm is to act against the interests of their customers, is that really any reason to not point out (at best) shifty practices, social media idiocy and “damage control” posts that seem to be public lying?

    2. We want our corrupt masters to at least lie competently to us. :)

      And why NOT single one out for destruction, if they all do it? It works fine for predators. Maybe just this once it will work for the prey?!

      Furthermore, if we agree it’s a shitty thing to do… we don’t let murderers off by saying, “Well, you did set up a sniper nest in your backyard, but this guy got hit by a car before your shot connected, so it’s okay.” There was clear willingness to interfere in this woman’s estate, and no clear reason why it was necessary to fight this claim tooth-and-nail as they did besides (YMMV) pure greed.

      If it shows us how far Progressive is willing to act against its customers’ best interests, why should we treat this case any differently? They were clearly willing to cause harm — so yeah, I think it obviousy matters quite a lot who represented whom, even if it didn’t end up being consequential in *this* case.

      Finally, I just can’t agree with your last point. It’s like saying “the outrage should be directed not at the Mafia, for firing those guns, but at our legal system for not regulating them better.” You can feel however you like about gun control, but not blaming the people who exploit the guns for profit and power sounds absolutely ludicrous to me. Why shouldn’t I feel the same about companies whose business models rely on a pay-to-play system?

    3. This issue is that the legal system didn’t need to get involved at all. Person A ran a red light, hitting person B, who died. Person A’s insurance company accepted that, and paid up the paltry amount they were contracted to under Person A’s crappy policy, *without* dragging the matter into court. Person B’s insurance company was then on the hook for the rest of the death benefit, since her insurance policy had an addendum that protected her and her survivors against under-insured people like person A. 
      The reasonable expectation is that the company would honor its liability. Sure, they wouldn’t be happy about it, and sure, they would look for ways to minimize their loss within the bounds of their contract. But instead of simply honoring the contract, Progressive decided to play the role of a corporate 2-year-old, screaming “no!” and offering the survivors much less money than they were entitled to based on the contract. When that didn’t work, they forced the survivors to go to court, then paid a lawyer to make  a Hail Mary attempt to convince a jury that a person driving through an intersection with a green light is somehow at fault for her death when hit by someone running the red light. 

      I think people understand that in a contract situation, a liable party will attempt to use the terms of the contract to minimize what they must pay. But to go to the extent of saying, in court, essentially “bitch deserved it” of their own client really goes beyond the pale of what we expect from an insurance company (or, in fact, any other party we get a contract with). 

      Contracts and lawsuits are an unavoidable fact of life in our society. Unnecessary litigation that drags a grieving family into court because a company does not want to honor a contract they clearly must honor are avoidable. Dragging this company out into the light of day, and exposing them is precisely what needs to be done. Are other companies doing this? Then let’s drag them out too, not shrug it off as business as usual. These companies live and die based on our patronage, not on some otherworldly right to exist. Companies that do not honor contracts without first going to extrodinary measures to avoid doing so are companies that people do not want to do business with. They need to be named, shamed, and hopefully left to die. 

  4. Wow reading through the court records I found this.

    It is this 19th day of May, 2011, by the Circuit Court For Baltimore City, hereby ORDERED

    1. That Progressive Advance Insurance Company be and is hereby allowed to intervene as a party Defendant.

    2. That Progressive Insurance Company is GRANTED all rights to participate in this proceeding as if it were an original party to this case.

    Source :

    1. I found this link too off an article  ( you have to click the link again after submitting the checkbox consent form to go straight to the record ).

      Could BoingBoing please update the story with a link to this.  Everything so far is hearsay on this article and the matt fisher blog – this is the solid proof that Progressive’s PR team lied and they absolutely did defend the at-fault motorist.

      1.  Matt Fisher’s assertion isn’t hearsay.  He was there.  That’s pretty much the opposite of hearsay.

        1. not on wikipedia :) I’ve had edits of mine removed from wikipedia in which I corrected a legend or too. When challenged for a citation to back up my edit, and I responded “Well, I was actually there when that happened and it didn’t occur that way”, I was told that this wasn’t good enough. 

          1. You weren’t accused of “hearsay” — you were asked to substantiate a claim.  Fisher’s claim is also unsubstantiated in the blog post (but is backed up by public court documents).  But that has no impact on whether it qualifies as “hearsay”, which it doesn’t.

            If Fisher had said, “my lawyer and a couple people at the trial told me that while I was in the bathroom some lawyer from Progressive came in and started representing the defendant, but he was gone when I came back” that would be hearsay.

          2. My understanding is that one of the core goals of Wikipedia design is that a subsequent editor should be able to come along and verify anything asserted in an article.

            If you published your account /outside/ of wikipedia and cited it, then that outside account would remain for the use of other, future editors.  Failing that, Wikipedia would depend on your eternal presence to maintain the truth of your anecdote.

            So, most likely your changes were rejected not because they were suspect, but because their presence resulted in an unmaintainable article.

        2. Ok, sorry for my semantic error.   This article is hearsay.  The vast majority of articles are hearsay.  Matt Fisher’s blog/tumblr/whatever is merely an unsubstantiated allegation.

          The link above is to court documents that substantiate his allegation; the original post should reference them in an update.

    2. I have to say, the lie-about-facts-on-the-public-record strategy is one that works a little too well in politics.  I’ll be interested to see how well it works for insurance companies.

  5. This is in fact both S.O.P. but nonetheless, in its S.O.P. offensive.
    The true party in interest is in fact Progressive. The defendant is not so much being sued as Progressive is being sued for the underinsured benefits and then the defendant for anything beyond the two policies.
    So Progressive should have active involvement in the defense since they’re the initial financial target. What they did wrong was covering up that fact.
    What burns me about this common practice is that my carrier should never fight me to this extent for underinsured and uninsured benefits.
    So this case — sadly — is nothing special. Sorry, interwebs.

    1. From abroad it looks set up to provide jobs for your legal system. Why use a full court? Make the procedures simpler, sloppier and cheaper and thus funnel more of the insurance money to hurt people instead of lawyers and so on. That should also benefit the insurance corporations since payouts makes for happy customers while legal costs only makes the legal system happy.

        1.  No, the claim was *never* unsubstantiated.

          The jury didn’t “substantiate” the claim — they found that it had been substantiated from the word go.

          Progressive tried and failed to assert that it was unsubstantiated. Progressive was always in the wrong here.

          And, on the facts, Progressive always knew they were in the wrong.

          But they thought they’d give it a shot and try to screw their policyholder anyway.

          After all, they’ve got the attorneys (they’re called “house counsel” in the business) on retainer anyway.

          “Might as well roll and the dice and see it we can get away with it.”

          1. Let’s break this down. Progressive sold a woman a policy which effectively stated that if she got in to an accident that wasn’t her fault, and the other driver did more damage than he was insured for, they would pay the difference up to say a million dollars. She got in to an accident and died. But because the other insurance company paid the family off before going to trial, there was never a finding of fault and there was no assesment of damages. As the brother says “I don’t discount the possibility that Katie was at fault in the accident…The totality of the evidence left some room for argument.” So how is Progressive to know whether or not they should pay the claim, and if so, for how much?  The most effective way to handle that is to have a trial and let the jury decide whether or not the other driver was at fault, and how much damage was done. Only after that determination was made could Progressive know they had to pay and how much. Most people here seem to think that when the family goes to Progressive and says “We want that million dollars now” that Progressive should just automatically cut a check without asking “Did the other driver cause the accident? Did he do a million dollars worth of damages?” As painful as it was for the family to go through that process after such a loss, I just don’t think that Progressive was evil for doing so. Trying to obscure the fact that they were doing it after the fact, that was stupid.

          2. weatherman, in your breakdown you left out the part where Progressive then actively participates against their customer in the trial they are using to establish fault. It changes the line from, “We need to know who was at fault before we pay out” to, “Fuck you.”

          3. @waetherman:disqus  But insurance companies pay up all the time without a court finding of negligence. That’s the norm! That’s what their claims assessors are paid to do! That’s why most insurance claims don’t go to trial but are instead settled out of court!

            Why is a “finding of fault” needed in this case and not most other cases? Because the other driver was underinsured and possibly very poor, so if Progressive paid out, it wouldn’t be able to recoup its losses. So it tried to avoid paying out. Making the insurance policy worthless and Progressive effectively running a scam for premiums.

            I feel like one of us is missing something here. If it’s me, please tell me what I am missing.

          4. @waetherman

            As painful as it was for the family to go through that process after such a loss, I just don’t think that Progressive was evil for doing so.

            I do.  Have you ever heard the phrase “the banality of evil”?  Or perhaps, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”?  Blind self-interest in the absence of moral restraint is, to me, the definition of evil.  It also happens to be an apt description of how corporations are run in the USA in the early 21st century.

          5. M.G. Mars: challenging a claim is not “fuck you” – it’s the process of justice. Argument, counterargument – it’s how we sort things out. We don’t just take one person’s word for it. One can’t say that Progressive is morally reprehensible for defending itself against a claim any more than one can say that criminal defense attorneys are morally reprehensible for defending accused criminals. Nobody likes to see how the sausage gets made, but that’s what this is. Well, sausage being justice, that is. 

            @dejadee:disqus : You’re right – claim assessors look the issue of fault and they estimate the damages, and they offer a payment based on that – but only in cases where the fault is clear and the damages easily measured. In this case one would have to assume that either there was a legitimate question of fault (as the brother admits) or a dispute about damages (how does one value a life?) or both, and that the offer of payment by Progressive wasn’t acceptable to the family. We don’t know what kind of settlement negotiations took place here, but here’s the most likely scenario: Progressive offered to settle and that the family refused, thinking that the offer was too low. Maybe it was ridiculously low – $10,000 or something. Maybe it was a big settlement offer of like $500,000 – we’ll never know. Either way, there was a dispute: Progressive thought the damages were less, the family thought they were more. Both sides intractable, the family decided to bring the issue to the court. In the end they were right, and the jury awarded them more money (probably) than what Progressive had offered. 

          6. Argument, counterargument – it’s how we sort things out.

            That might be a window into your worldview, but it’s not the only way that people sort things out.

        2.  I do battle with insurance companies all of the time as a plaintiff’s attorney.  Waetherman’s technical analysis is actually correct.  While it may be a difficult concept to wrap your head around, when an insured is suing an uninsured or underinsured driver, the insured’s “own” insurance company actually becomes aligned with the uninsured or underinsured driver.  It really can’t be any other way, since the interests (legal, financial, fiduciary) of the insured and the insurance company are in conflict.  Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage are contractually dissimilar than comprehensive or collision insurance, or PIP or medical payments coverage, or no fault, where fault is not an issue, just the amount of damages.  In an uninsured/underinsured scenario, one’s own insurance company can’t represent you and the other driver at the same time.  Policy language reflects this.  As do premiums.

          Now, should Progressive had settled this claim?  Perhaps.  I file lawsuits against uninsured or uninsured drivers all the time and am required to give my client’s own insurance company notice that I’m doing so giving them an opportunity to intervene.  The battle that ensues is just like the battle I would have if I sued someone with adequate insurance with another company.  But whether it is your own insurance company or someone else’s, insurance companies have decided to contest many claims so the word gets out to the plaintiff’s bar that you’ll work for every penny it takes to conclude the claim.  Insurance companies bank on the fact that this will dissuade many lawyers from taking some legitimate claims to trial or even taking them at all.  When expert testimony can cost $400 per hour or more (even your treating doctor will charge that to describe your diagnosis, prognosis and causation), you can quickly see how the insurance companies’ strategy pays off for them.

          In the public relations arena (mostly funded by the insurance companies and their lobbyists), trial lawyers take a beating.  I hope that this example shows many that the insurance industry, indeed, your own insurance company, are not your friends.

          1.  ridl asks what changes in the law would be necessary to curb or reverse this? Here are my thoughts:

            1.  Because of the expense of litigation, cases valued under, say $25,000, should be handled under a no fault protocol.  This $25,000 threshold could be determined by applying a factor to the medical bills and lost income (not reduced by health insurance or third party reductions or co-payments or sick leave or vacation time taken) or by disability or impairment in excess of a certain percentage (borrowing from the work comp arena).  There may be battles over whether this threshold has been met, but they will be fewer and, factoring in litigation costs and attorney’s fees, the claimant will probably net more.  We attorneys need to accept that reality.

            2.  Insurance companies should be barred from using computer-assisted valuation programs (like Allstate’s Colossus) in determining fair value of a case.  Diagnostic codes and number of physician visits don’t tell the whole story.  An arm amputation with good recovery (i.e., few doctor visits and little requirement of future medical treatment after healing) doesn’t tell the entire story of what the case should be worth to the claimant.

            3.  Insurance agents should be required to explain (a) the necessity of uninsured AND underinsured coverage (remember, liability coverage protects others from your negligence; uninsured and underinsured coverage offers coverage against other’s negligence over which you have no control); (b) that the amount of your premium that is charged for uninsured and underinsured coverage reflects the reality that your insurance company becomes the insurance company for the other person if he/she is uninsured or underinsured and, in layman’s terms, they owe you no fiduciary duty.

            4.  Arbitrary caps on non-pecuniary losses are not necessary and interfere with a victim’s right to have his damages and injuries evaluated by a jury of his peers.  Don’t believe me?  An attorney in my office had a women who was mis-prescribed a drug that caused her skin to peel off like acid had been thrown on it and then she died.  A month of complete agony.  Think a cap on pain and suffering of $250,000 is enough to compensate for that torture?  How much would you be willing to accept to endure that?

            5.  The public needs to understand that there are crazy trial lawyers who’ll file anything just as there are crazy doctors who try and waterboard their kid.  Those are the outliers.  There’s an old saying, a new Democrat is a Republican whose kid (a) has just been arrested; (b) had the wrong leg amputated; (c) insert any number of harms to a family member.  When your ox is gored, you’ll understand.

            6.  Our jury system is what stands the U.S. apart from any other nation.  It stands between us and government oppression and tyranny.  It gives us a direct say-so as to what constitutes justice.  Does it have its faults?  Sure.  Access to judicial redress costs too much.  Some of the blame belongs to lawyers.  Some of the blame belongs to the cost of proving what the truth is.  Remember, truth on this earth is spelled with a small “t”.  Of course, we could try other alternatives (dueling, arm wrestling, toss a coin), but I don’t think those would be better.

            My .02.

  6. Soren: The company’s purpose is to provide insurance. In general, a company’s purpose is what its business is, it’s not “making money”. Money is a means to the end of sustaining and growing the business.

    In a world where the purpose of companies is to amass money, the money becomes worthless as it can no longer buy useful goods or services.

    1. This reminds me: I own a (very small) company. My articles of incorporation include a purpose for the company (most do). The purpose is along the lines of “to provide X type of service **in order to make a profit**.” This is an important distinction because most for-profit companies will have a statement like this. Otherwise they would be not-for-profit or non-profit companies. But note that the purpose isn’t TO MAKE A PROFIT. It’s “to engage in the business of [something] in order to make a profit.” 

      My understanding is some articles of incorporation say something along the lines of “to engage in any lawful activity in order to make a profit” which certainly puts the emphasis on the profit.

      But in my case, it’s specific…to provide a fairly well defined service in order to make a profit. That doesn’t include screwing my clients.

    2. Here’s another take on the issue of “this is okay because profits.” If you were an investor in Progressive, would you condone this behavior? Does this make you more or less likely to invest in Progressive?

  7. You know what that means, everyone… time to be Internet Detectives. Looks like Mr. Moffat works for Captive Counsel Law Group. I can’t find any indication as to whether Progressive or Nationwide employs CCLG’s services.

    Edit: Beaten. Nice job, Mr Carter. Looks like It’s actually Moffet, so disregard the above.

  8.  Sure, the insurance company sucks, but they’re just using the law to their advantage. It’s not against the law to be a heartless, shit-eating, corporate reptile. Here’s what I don’t get: Maryland law doesn’t allow private citizens to sue when the insurance company refuses to pay? WHAT THE F*** IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!

  9. This is awful behavior on the part of Progressive, bad enough that I would never consider purchasing their products again.  However, I do not think that any insurer out there which sells discounted insurance would act any differently.  None of the providers in the same class is any differently motivated than Progressive, or has any higher moral standards.  They are all about paying out as little as they can get away with.  If Progressive does not significantly damage their profit numbers with this tactic, expect it to become standard for all carriers.  The only way to solve this problem is to reform the law, and hey, good luck with that.

    Maybe there is a lawsuit against the government in here about reforming a law that requires individuals to purchase products from companies that routinely show they do not have their customers’ interests at heart.  But, again, expect Progressive and others to pay for an expensive resistance to such a campaign.

    1. If Progressive does not significantly damage their profit numbers with this tactic, expect it to become standard for all carriers.  The only way to solve this problem is to reform the law, and hey, good luck with that.

      I agree with the first part, but disagree with the second a a consequence — if public opinion turns against Progressive because of this internet crusade against them, and their profits are damaged as a result, then surely they’ll be obligated to change their ways in the name of profit maximisation?

      Arguably, internet crusades like this are a vital component of the Holy Free Market doing its job.

  10. While Progressive has done a miserable job of explaining their actions to the grieving family and to the press, evidently this sort of BS is completely SOP in Maryland, thanks to their screwed up auto insurance laws.

    CF this surprisingly useful ambulance chaser’s web site, which explains that when the other driver is un/under insured in Maryland, the state law essentially turns your own insurance company into your adversary.

  11. All this talk of “what would you expect a corporation to do?”, this is exactly why corporations should not be allowed to be people, should not be allowed to have more power in our society than people, and should not be able to lobby and influence our government. Otherwise we have a society where people are simply fodder for corporate profit, and the powerful individuals that hide behind corporations.

  12. Some of you are pointing out this horrible thing happening because Progressive is a profit-seeking corporations, but I don’t see why this couldn’t happen in a mutual insurance company too (i.e., policy holder owned, surplus income returned to policyholders). Even if an insurance company isn’t trying to make money, they’d be financially and morally obligated to limit payouts so to preserve their ability to serve other policyholders. Which, at least in principle, they could have the same pressure to make bad decisions.

    No, this is Progressive’s bad judgement, and Progressive’s problem alone.

    1. It could, but it’s far less likely because the class of shareholders only cares about profits, and thus minimizing claims paid out as much as possible. The class of policyholders cares about having claims paid out at an actuarially fair rate.

      Why? Because the main reason policyholders bought their policy was not to receive profit dividends, but to have their risks insured, and they are more likely to identify with one of their own than a shareholder would.

  13. Progressive is an “it” but the decision to defend was may by a “he” “she” or “them” who need to be identified and outed.

    1. Honest question: Why is that at all important? (This same question has come up in the financial crisis.) First of all, what we care about is changing the behavior of Progressive as an institution, or as a representative of the insurance industry, and outing individuals does nothing to accomplish that. Second, doesn’t social psychology tell us that individual responsibility is distorted by organizational membership, which again means the organization should be the focus? Thirdly, isn’t that a lot of unnecessary work? By which I mean: It’s easy to see that Progressive is in the wrong. To determine if an individual decision maker is in the wrong, we’d have to determine what data he or she had to make the decision, what options were at his or her disposal, and then we’d have to build a reasonable moral model of what what we might expect from a typical similarly-educated person in the same position.

      1. You know what? Nevermind. That question will only lead to angst, and I don’t need to inject that here. I’ll find someone offline to talk to about it.

  14. So Progressive didn’t lie when they said that they “did not serve as the attorney for the defendant in this case.” What they actually did still seems pretty scummy, though. Because they had a financial stake in the outcome, they intervened as an interested party and argued to the jury Fisher’s sister was at fault and that the defendant was not negligent.

    Yes, they had the legal right to do this and probably didn’t violate any contract by doing so, but they should have realized that it was a potential PR disaster. Of course they had a sizable chunk of money at stake, but there was always a risk that they’d lose anyway and have to pay the claim plus legal fees. Which is what happened. Lots of companies are willing to give their customers the benefit of the doubt because they realize that goodwill is hard won, easily lost, and highly valuable.

    Imagine if you bought a defective product and the manufacturer wouldn’t replace it because you couldn’t prove that you didn’t damage the product yourself. Sure, they have the right to protect their interests, but it’s a shitty way to treat people who are giving you their money.

  15. Here’s a copy of the court records: PDF

    And I’ve attached a clip from the records that reads:

    It is this 19th day of May, 2011, by the Circuit Court For Baltimore City, hereby ORDERED1. That Progressive Advance Insurance Company be and is hereby allowed to intervene as a party Defendant.2. That Progressive Insurance Company is GRANTED all rights to participate in this proceeding as if it were an original party to this case.

  16. Screw Progressive.  They insured the truck of a man who had a revoked license for his 3rd DUI, which allowed the truck to be plated and driven by that man, who proceeded to drunk drive and killed my in-laws.  The didn’t give a shit about our loss, in fact they asked us, in order to collect the minimum personal liability claim that came with their minimum policy, a waiver discharging the killer of any other civil actions!  Tell me why any insurance company would care about someone like that, and furthermore why would they care about what happens to him outside of their policy?

    I cannot turn on the TV without seeing that hideous, obnoxious ‘Flo’ shilling for their shitty company.  Which of course keeps me thinking about their role in our parents death. Of all the so-called corporate citizens, insurance and banking (closely related) are surely the worst.

    1. Blood on their hands, blood on their suits, blood on their walls, in their soil and on their teeth when they smile, blood on you when you shake their hand. Bad from birth, death profiteers, nation killers, future killers, base criminals, the most vicious of the least moral of the most powerful, a pox on them all and may we be rid of them soon.

  17. @vengefultacos: “since her insurance policy had an addendum that protected her and her survivors against under-insured people like person A. ”

    I would assume that her premium was higher to have this addendum added.

    I think   @twitter-245604462:disqus comments make more sense if one assumes that this was legally mandated insurance and the underinsured addendum was legally required.

    However, the only legally mandated car insurance I have run across in several different states is “liability only”. If someone hits your car and they are uninsured? SOL. You hit someone and total your car? The insurance company will pay to fix THEIR car, but not yours.

    I haven’t looked at our policy in a long time, but I know our “comprehensive” coverage is considerably more than liability only, which is why this is just… not cool.

    It appears that the insured paid extra for this benefit and Progressive is fighting against awarding it. That is what is driving people nuts.

      1.  I’m sure it’s the same as in the UK, where you must have Third Party, but Fire and Theft, and Fully Comprehensive are your own choice.

  18. View from Canada: all this is absolutely relevant to your health care debate. Default setting for insurers is to deny coverage and then work from there. Plenty of people who don’t want the legal headaches will opt for not seeking health care at all for anything short of a broken bone sticking out through the skin. Not criminal, just the logic of the free market system. 

  19. Progressive is a CORPORATION. Their only motive EVER is to make profit for their shareholders.

    Insurance companies use terms such as “duty to defend” and “exposure” when they are talking about loved ones getting in to a deadly car accident. Once you understand “duty to defend” and “exposure” and other terms the insurance companies use, you will really understand how insurance companies operate.

    If you think insurance companies are in the business of helping people, you are a fool. 

  20. Wow, just saw Matt Fisher on CNN. I am currently changing insurance companies from State Farm to ? I definitely will not buy Progressive. So sorry for Matt’s loss of his sister, who was NOT at fault in her accident.

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