Progressive denies defending the person who killed its policyholder


[UPDATE: Read the comments in Cory's post here. The court records show that Progressive did indeed participate in the killer's legal defense] Adweek has a short item about Progressive Insurance's "social media crisis" resulting from Matt Fisher's claim that the insurer defended his sister's "killer in court in an effort not to pay out the benefit on her policy."

Progressive understands Flo is now a liability, at least temporarily, though the company was way too slow to replace her avatar with the corporate logo on its main Twitter account -- leaving Flo to smile maddeningly as she robo-spammed canned responses at people who had read Fisher's story and were horrified.

The article also linked to a statement from Chris Wolf, the claims general manager for Progressive, who points the finger at Nationwide for representing the defendant.

To be very clear, Progressive did not serve as the attorney for the defendant in this case. He was defended by his insurance company, Nationwide.

There was a question as to who was at fault, and a jury decided in the Fisher family’s favor just last week. We respect the verdict and now can continue to work with the Fisher family to reach a resolution.

Flo Suddenly a Problem for Progressive in Its Social-Media Crisis


  1. I’m glad I didn’t move to Progressive. I decided to stay with State Farm.

    That being said, I do like Flo. 

    1. As I said elsewhere; I doubt this is something unique to Progessive, & more likely indicates the sort of terrible things that insurance companies do to maximize profit.  This is less a “down with Progressive!” than a teachable moment about privatized social services.

  2. This brought a couple of things to mind pretty immediately. One, all I personally know about this is what Mr. Fisher says, and what Progressive’s response is. If Mr. Fisher is accurate (which he may or may not be?? I just don’t know) it does raise some questions as to Progressive’s behaviour. If what Progressive says is accurate, and the possibility exists that it is, then Mr. Fisher’s statement could be grounded in a mistake or misperception, and all this righteous indignation is pretty misplaced. One thing I see too often these days is people jumping up to condemn things that they just don’t know enough about to form an accurate opinion, puffing themselves up with righteous sturm und drang over things that they are basically guessing about.
    Second, I don’t know that the insurance company wasn’t behaving entirely appropriately. After all, in that line of business, there are never any disputes that don’t involve trying situations, and there is a fine line between an insurance company being obstinate and behaving in a rational manner to avoid giving away the store.

    1. What excuse do you make for Progressive that Mr. Fisher might have been left with an incomplete understanding?

    1. You definitely should.
      I recommend USAA to everyone who qualifies (military and immediate family).
      They are a stellar insurance company and a super convenient bank; I love mobile phone check deposits and reimbursements of other banks’ ATM fees.

      1. Unfortunately USAA doesn’t cover motorcycles, instead they contract those policies  out to (wait for it) Progressive

    2. Cheaper, better, MUCH better in a tight spot. Not a huge military-industrial fan but I prize my USAA coverage greatly.

      1. Meh, my experience with USAA auto after an accident was actually kind of similar to this, in that they didn’t take my side in an ambiguous situation.  

        (A driver backed into a parallel parking spot while I was trying to pass him on the left.  Common sense suggests that he had a responsibility to look before putting it into reverse, but USAA decided that I had no right to try to swing around him, a very normal maneuver in the city.)

        The stakes were much much lower, of course, but it’s left me as a begrudging customer at best.

  3. It is easy to check who’s telling the truth:  Someone just needs to pull the court records on the case, since that will list the attorneys involved and can be used to determine who they represent.

    Because either

    a)  Progressive got unfairly trashed in the media for this,


    b)  The are worse than scum, because they are now lying…

      1. Court record says: “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.”
        While they did not provide the defendant’s original lawyer, they certainly sent one over to help him.

        1. I hope Boing Boing adds some of this info to the original post.  A lot of folks don’t read through the comments to find additional info.  I imagine most other media outlets won’t be writing more on this beyond the two competing statements

          1.  I second this motion. Would an editor toss up an update. This is a big fat lie they have been caught in.

        2. Thank you, sir, for teasing that out.  I was dreading trying to parse legalese, but it looks like you’ve got a pretty clear & present smoking gun.

        1. And Jeffrey Moffet works for Progressive. So yes, Nationwide provided primary defense. Progressive sent their counsel to assist. 

          1. Jeffrey Moffet wasn’t representing the defendant. He was representing Progressive as an “interested party”.

          2. What does “That Progressive Advance Insurance Company be and is hereby allowed to intervene as a party Defendant.” mean then? I’m not well versed on this stuff, but it seems to state rather clearly he will be party with the Defendant.

          3. Also a bit further down there’s this line: “8.6.12 Deft. Progressive Advanced Insurance Co.’s motion in 8.6.12 limine to witness, Jennifer Shea testifying that she 8.6.12 sustained a brain injury “Denied”. Geller, J.” 
            And later: 
            8.7.12 At the end of the Pltf’s case, Deft. Progressive 

            8.7.12 Advanced Insurance Co.’s motion for Judgment “Denied”. Refers to Progressive as a Defendant. Multiple times. 

          4. Yes. Upon looking into it more it appears as if Progressive voluntarily inserted themselves into the case as a Defendant, in addition to the original defendant. Which resulted in them losing. So I guess they didn’t provide legal counsel for the original defendant, they just made themselves one so they could argue against their policyholder. 

        1. After you click the ‘I agree’ button on the court document website, load the link again, it goes directly to the case in question.

          1. So progressive just OUT AND FUCKING LIED!

            Why am I not surprised by this…

            Oh wait… “We did not represent the defendant”…

            Instead, they represented themselves with all the RIGHTS of the defendant! HA.

          2. @google-ccc5f0105a59378f109456b0c1b1de00:disqus  Who would have thought insurance company lawyers could twist the truth like that? I am shocked.

  4. Not quite sure what any of this has to do with Flo, but I highly doubt the article author in fact knows what Progressive thinks of its own spokeswoman/mascot. Was there a leaked email from Progressive execs saying “We now think Flo is a liability?” Maybe he should just stick to the facts, which are in some doubt.

    On that subject, if Nationwide defended the other driver, well of course they fucking did. That’s their job. Framing it as “pointing the finger” makes it sound like Nationwide did something wrong.

    If Progressive did it (something I doubted from the start–seems like an illegal conflict of interest to me) then fuck them.

  5. Man, it must be weird today for the actress who plays Flo – one minute you’re collecting a decent regular paycheck for doing insurance ads, then suddenly you’re the public face of this mess, wondering if they’re going to disappear your character because it reminds people of the time when Progressive allegedly defended their policy holder’s killer to avoid paying out.

    1. At least she stands a better chance at landing another acting gig than that interrupting duck, CGI lizard or Gilbert Godfrey.

  6. Go to your state’s insurance related website.

    Check premium comparison.

    Check complaint ratio.

    Above all, do NOT believe what they allege in their advertising.    All insurance companies have to comply with the same standards set by the individual states in which they operate.    Some companies are more reliable and ethical than others.    But given the opportunity, they will screw you.

    “We are looking for coverage” is another way of weaseling out in order to deny a claim.    Granted, they are in the business of making money, but their priority SHOULD be to pay legitimate claims.

  7. Apropos of nothing pertinent to this discussion, I always thought the actress playing Flo had a really good gig, because a) she isn’t easily replaceable so she has good job security and they probably pay her pretty well and b) her character is so heavily styled etc that she would never ever be recognized as ‘the person from that commercial’ on the street, and also won’t get typecast…

    1. you’d think that, but look what happened to the halifax guy here in the uk. he sold them the rights to his image, so when he demanded more money to appear in the ads, they just replaced him with a cgi version of himself.
       and also I think he was prevented from doing any other kind of publicity work because he didn’t own his own face anymore.

    2. We were watching Fred: The Movie a while back, and at one point I said “that actress looks familiar, who is she?”, and my 7 year old son said “It’s Flo”.

    3. Stephanie Courtney (Flo), also showed up briefly on Mad Men, (5 episodes as a very minor tertiary space filler during season 1)

  8. If an insurance company is offering consistently lower rates (and Progressive is), and advertising it ad nauseam and at great expense, it’s a safe guess they do something horrible on the other end. 

    1. I often wonder how low our rates can be if all the companies stop playing 3 ads every break telling us how they are all some $300 cheaper then the other guys.

      1. But they don’t say that. It’s actually much more ingenious. They say, paraphrased: “of people who switched to our insurance, people saved $300 on average”.  Presumably everyone who got quotes which were  more expensive than their current providers  didn’t choose to switch. So really the measure  is, “About how much money would you have to save on your car insurance to go through the effort of changing your policy and running the risk of unknown quality claims service from a new provider?” Answer (based on GEICO, state farm, etc. commercials): $300.

        1. At least one of the companies used to actually say this in their ads – that they’re not necessarily the cheapest for everyone – which seemed refreshingly honest. I think it was Geico back when their big thing was that you can easily compare rates on their website to other insurance companies (they all do that now so their ads focus on the stupid gecko instead of anything that actually distinguishes the company from any other).

      2. No, they all say they can save you up to $300 by switching. This is because nobody ever switches when the price goes up by doing so, and there’s enough variation between individuals and insurance companies and over time such that the best deal for everybody isn’t at the same insurance company.

        It doesn’t really mean anything.

  9. We would just like to say that even though the court has ruled against us and it is clear that we will pursue any and all avenues to avoid paying out a policy up to and including denying rightful compensation to a family that lost a daughter and forcing them to engage in a lengthy and costly legal battle while simultaneously grieving that loss, we feel that this case was handled perfectly well, and that we were perfectly within our rights to do as we did, even though it’s clear to everyone involved that we simply, callously, tried to screw this family at one of the most painful times in their lives for the sake of profit. Our CEO, he who is called the Desolate One, our lord Satan, is proud of our company’s cold robotic response to the real human suffering we have caused, and has encouraged us in a company memo (written in the blood of innocents) to stay the course, and keep fighting the Good Fight. One day, He (screams/growls/roars/keens/barks)says, we will achieve that most lofty of goals, denying ALL claims on the basis of legal technicality. On that great day, our mere insurance company will become a soul-devouring blood-lubricated profit/death machine, and all will tremble before its terrible smiling lipsticked countenance. Think Easier, Think Progressive.

  10. One thing I’d also c heck is whether Progressive participated in some way other than providing the attorney.  At any rate, we have two stories and I’d love to know the facts.  I suspect that we will very soon.

  11. One indication that the case was pretty open-and-shut was that the other guy’s insurance company looked at the situation and settled with my sister’s estate basically immediately.
    Now, because the other driver was underinsured, that payment didn’t amount to much, but my sister carried a policy with Progressive against the possibility of an accident with an underinsured driver. So Progressive was now on the hook for the difference between the other guy’s insurance and the value of Katie’s policy.
    At which point we learned the first surprising thing about Progressive: Carrying Progressive insurance and getting into an accident does not entitle you to the value of your insurance policy. It just pisses off Progressive’s lawyers. Here I address you, Prospective Progressive Insurance Customer: someday when you have your accident, I promise that there will be enough wiggle room for Progressive’s bottomless stack of in-house attorneys to make a court case out of it and to hammer at that court case until you or your surviving loved ones run out of money.

    Which is what Progressive decided to do to my family. In hopes that a jury would hang or decide that the accident was her fault, they refused to pay the policy to my sister’s estate.

  12. If that statement from Progressive is the truth, then this entire shitstorm has been for nothing. If the man who caused the accident was a client of Nationwide, it is in their interest to represent him. Also, if that is the case, then Progressive was falsely accused and has been getting tons of flak from the internet for absolutely nothing. It seems to me this could wind up with the brother who initially made this claim on his blog facing libel charges if what Progressive states turns out to be true.

    1.  What progressive said is very technically true, but it is also true that progressive contributed to the defense of the accused and had standing as if the defendant and participated on the defendants behalf. please read up thread replies that quote court documents. Basically progressive has just continued to act awfully with lies of omission in their statement.

      1. Spot on. 

        Failing to clarify that they inserted themselves as a defendant and presented their own legal counsel who acted on behalf of all defendants is painfully stupid when it is all a matter of public record.

        Like a kid with a stolen lollipop who says when confronted, “Nuh uh, it’s a sucker!” all the while sucking on the lollipop sullenly and angrily.

  13. This reminds me of two anecdotal experiences with Allstate. My father was rear-ended by a woman who was an Allstate customer. Naturally he went through a lot of difficulties trying to get a new car, including an Allstate representative who told him “I don’t know who you are or what your problem is, and I don’t care!” and then hung up on him. The other was my neighbor’s daughter who was hit while riding her bike. The driver was an Allstate customer. The family received numerous harassing phone calls from Allstate, and, on one occasion, when the daughter (a minor) was home alone an Allstate representative came to the door and tried to intimidate her into dropping her claim.

    This behavior, atrocious as it was, came from employees within the company, but they are, as far as most of us are concerned, faceless — even anonymous. We wouldn’t know them if we saw them.

    So I feel really bad for Flo, or at least the actress who plays her. She’s the public face of a company that’s being trashed, possibly unfairly. Her connection to the company is pretty tangential, but I suspect there’s a lot of anger being unfairly directed her way now.

    If Progressive really is guilty and Flo is fired it’ll be a crime — albeit a small one compared to what happened to Fisher’s family. And if Progressive isn’t guilty and Flo is still fired that’ll really be a crime.

  14. Actually, defending a third party would not be appropriate. And one thing that inclines me to lean towards believing Fisher. He says Nationwide paid out their full liability. His family was trying to collect the uninsured driver portion from Progressive. If so, Nationwide would have no incentive to defend, Progressive would. 

    1. As the defendant’s insurer, Nationwide would be obligated by policy terms (and probably by state insurance regulations) to provide his defense, regardless of whether it is in their financial interest. That’s one of the things you get for having car insurance.

  15. It’s still pretty shitty that the family had to sue the bad driver directly in order to get the insurance money they were due, regardless of whether Progressive did or did not provide any legal help for the bad driver’s defense (although the court documents linked and quoted by others here seem to say that they did provide legal help.)

    If all that was needed was for a court to prove that the guy was responsible for the collision, then that could have been done without suing him directly.  And it’s still shitty on the part of Progressive to require that a court recognize this fact.

  16. This all sounds like typical insurance company shenanigans, who probably influenced  the seemingly strange state laws that led to this byzantine pathway of getting reimbursed.  But according to  Fisher, the law wouldn’t let her estate sue Progressive for the money, so they sued the guy who caused the accident.  When Progressive joined as a defendant (not as the defendant’s lawyer), they sort of got what they wanted all along (i.e., to sue Progressive for the money they thought they were owed). 

    The good news is that the blowback from this case has certainly cost them more than just paying out, and it so it might have a chance of changing their policy.  Actuaries even have a symbol for ‘the expected time someone has to live’, and they have certainly calculated the expected value of litigating vs. paying on certain types of policies.  When reassessed next quarter, the decision threshold for litigation maybe went from $3 million to $4 million.

    Yours truly,
    Johnny Dollar

    1. “When Progressive joined as a defendant (not as the defendant’s lawyer), they sort of got what they wanted all along (i.e., to sue Progressive for the money they thought they were owed).” 
      Exactly – the fourth document in the court record shows that the Plaintiffs (her parents) consented to the Interested Party (Progressive) filing a motion to intervene *as a defendant*. In another state, they would have sued Progressive directly, Progressive would have had a lawyer (just like they had a lawyer here), and there would be no brouhaha about Progressive ‘defending their policyholder’s killer.’

  17. Not a lot of people in the previous thread seem to have thought this through very well, and only a few people really got the issue at stake, but I’m going to try to make things a little clearer. What happened here was, for all intents and purposes, claims adjusting. It’s what every insurance company does, what they’re supposed to do, according to the terms of the contract that they made with you, and it’s what they’ve done since there have been insurance companies: make sure that they owe you the money that you’re claiming under the terms that you both agreed to. When [SPOILERS AHEAD for a really old play] Willy Loman crashed his car at the end of Death of a Salesman, a claims adjuster checked to see that he wasn’t just a suicidal recently-unemployed and probably unemployable old man trying to salvage a little dignity for himself by giving his family the insurance payoff, which of course he totally was. (It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the play, so I can’t remember whether or not he was successful in this.)

    Matt Fisher himself says that, over two years later, he still doesn’t know for sure whether or not his sister may have been at fault for the accident. This is what Progressive is trying to establish. He thinks that “the case was pretty open-and-shut” because the other driver’s company settled, but that may have been an equally cold-blooded decision on the part of the other driver’s insurance company, that they would probably pay out less on the guilty plea than it might cost them at trial. The case could have been a lot less open-and-shut than it appeared at first glance, meaning that the other driver’s insurance company may have been the villain in throwing their client under the bus to save a buck or two, but Fisher seems to believe (or want to believe) that once the other guy’s company settled, he was obviously guilty, no chance for appeal. The system really doesn’t work that way, and that’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world if you happen to be the other driver in this case. 

    And if anyone thinks that State Farm, or any other insurance company besides Progressive, is going to pay out $760,000 plus costs without seeing if there’s a way of getting out of it, you’re living in a fool’s paradise, my friend.

  18. Boing Boing really needs to update their post to reflect the dishonesty of Progressive’s statement.

    The court records clearly show that they joined the case as a defendant, and argued against Matt Fisher’s family in court.

    Even if their statement is true as a legal technicality, it’s message is a lie and should be pointed out as such.

  19. I was in an accident about six years ago where I was rearended by another driver– which in my state makes them 100 percent at fault. (Which  was the case, as I was sitting at a stop light) when I found out that we both had the same insurance company, I thought that would make it EASIER to get my claim processed.
    Boy, was I wrong.
    In the end, I had to hire a lawyer. 
    I am sorry this happened to Mr. Fisher and his family.

  20. This post is confusing. I don’t understand what Flo or Social Media have to do with whether or not Progressive represented the under insured defendant in the case filed by the parents of their customer.

    Why are these two things being conflated? What am I supposed to be outraged about exactly?

  21. “We respect the verdict and now can continue to work with the Fisher family to reach a resolution.”

    What is there to work on to reach a resolution?
    You were contracted for and paid to provide compensation in the event that an underinsured driver hit the person paying you.  The person paying you was hit by an underinsured driver, and you decided to lower the amount you were willing to pay out despite what you promised. 

    I am sure you have mealy mouthed wiggle words in the contract itself, but the big selling point you make to customers is –
    We will pay you X if this happens, not we might pay you 1/3 of X after months of fighting about it.  Then you can’t sue us, so you need to sue the other guy so that we are then maybe willing to consider to pay out more.  Oh and we’ll show up in court to help the other guy so we don’t have to pay you crap.

    1. “What is there to work on to reach a resolution?”

      How about deducting court costs from the settlement? I bet they would love to do that.

      1. That only works if your Emiems label, and hope that no one will notice your expensing defending him suing you against his profits.

  22. From the victim’s brother, via the Consumerist:

    “At the beginning of the trial on Monday, August 6th, an attorney identified himself as Jeffrey R. Moff[e]t 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 all of 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.

    I am comfortable characterizing this as a legal defense.”

    1. Progressive didn’t technically lie, but they were very, very misleading. According to the court documents, Progressive didn’t “serve as the attorney for the defendant in this case.” No, Progressive actually inserted themselves as a co-defendant alongside Mr. Hope (who was driving the car that ran the red light). It’s a valid distinction, but the statement is quite misleading.

  23. It appears as though Flo has fallen in that “uncanny valley” where it becomes super creepy to try and paste a human face over a soulless corporation.

  24. “We respect the verdict and now can continue to work with the Fisher family to reach a resolution.”

    In other news, I’ve just been convicted of fraud, drug-smuggling and mass-murder. I respect the verdict and am continuing to work with the trial judge to reach a resolution.

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