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Progressive Professes the Insurance Company Creed

Yesterday we covered the internet brouhaha over Progressive Insurance. The insurance company caught a lot of internet flak after comedian Matt Fisher wrote this provocative blog post: My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court. Outrage against Progressive’s apparent provision of a defense to the driver who killed Katie Fisher — even though Katie Fisher was Progressive’s insured, not that driver — went viral over social media (especially after actor Wil Wheaton got involved).

Now Progressive is paying up. The company has reached a settlement with the Fisher family.

We recently heard from Progressive’s PR firm, which sent us a statement on the Fisher case. What does Flo have to say for herself?

So what’s the takeaway here? Internet Victorious; Evil Company Capitulates? As Juggalo Law, who wrote yesterday’s post, jokingly quipped to me, “Wil Wheaton hasn’t made something his bitch like this since that slow-ass train in Stand by Me.”

But that’s not really what happened here. Read this excerpt from the Progressive statement (reprinted in full on the next page):

For the past week, Progressive has been in active settlement discussions with the family of Kaitlynn Fisher. Though there was considerable public interest in this case and we know many of you saw mentions of it on social media and news outlets, we also believed it was inappropriate to share further details while those discussions were ongoing. As of this morning, an agreement has been reached with the Fisher family to settle the claim. Prior to that, we were cautious with our responses, but now that the agreement has been reached, we’d like to further clarify Progressive’s role in the trial….

Ms. Fisher held a policy with Progressive that included Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage, which protects drivers in the event they’re struck by an at-fault driver who’s either uninsured or doesn’t have enough coverage. Under Maryland law, in order to receive the benefits of an underinsured driver claim, the other driver must be at fault….

On Thursday, August 9, a jury determined that the other driver was at fault in the accident involving Ms. Fisher. In accordance with that decision, Progressive worked with the Fisher family and their legal representative to resolve the claim.

Translation: Progressive availed itself of all legal avenues for not paying out on Katie Fisher’s policy; after they lost, they agreed to pay out. The decision to settle arose out of the jury verdict, not all this blogging and Facebook and Twitter nonsense.

The Progressive statement shouldn’t shock anyone. As Juggalo Law wrote in his original post:

[I]nsurance companies and all of the other businesses that survivors must joust with aren’t “inhuman monsters.” They’re merely inhuman. And they will follow protocol and attempt to minimize their own exposure as much as is possible. The existence of insurance companies is predicated on their attempts to make money. And nothing in this case suggests that their actions were borne out of anything other than this absolute truth.

There were over one hundred comments on his story, many of them thoughtful. Some of them agreed with Juggs, like this one:

The Tumblr post is wrong on the law, which isn’t really surprising. But what is surprising, at least to me, is this basic naivete about how insurers work. Insurance carriers make money by collecting premiums, holding on to them and hopefully investing them well. If they have to pay that money out in claims, or if they get socked by poor investment performance as did most carriers over the past couple of years, they don’t make money. So carriers try not to pay out claims. When it’s a third party liability problem, the insured doesn’t much care who pays what so long as he doesn’t have to miss a couple of days from work to go sit at some dumb trial he doesn’t understand. When it’s a first party problem, the insured – or, as in this case, her estate – cares because they want their money. Suddenly the insured is shocked to discover that the carrier doesn’t want to pay on the claim. I’m not defending carriers here particularly. An insurance company will pretty much slit your throat if they can save $1 doing it.

This comment made essentially the same point, more succinctly:

Breaking News: Insurance Company Attempts To Not Make Good On Contract.

– Source: The Non-News Newspaper

But other commenters disagreed. For example:

I think you’re kind of missing the point. No one is surprised that an insurance company doesn’t want to pay out on a claim. And those of us with a legal education may understand that the insurer of the accident victim has an interest in any litigation that could impact their liability. But there’s still something that shocks the conscience about an insurance company stepping up in defense of the alleged tortfeasor whose actions led to their insured’s death. Whereas sitting in an office trying to think up delaying tactics, or searching the policy for fine print that allows denial of a claim, are a sort of passive awfulness, going to argue against the insured in court is a more direct act that people have not unreasonably perceived as an attack on the insured’s family.

I don’t think it’s fair to assume the anti-Progressive backlash is naive or (as this article says) ignorant. People understand that insurance companies, being profit-driven corporations, are just trying to protect their bottom line. That’s WHY they’re being labeled inhuman monsters. The entire backlash is predicated on the idea that there’s something sick about operating your business in a way that shocks the conscience and flies in the face of human decency.

Or this one:

What a bizarre article. It’s okay for Progressive to do whatever it takes not to pay out the claim, but it’s wrong for Fisher to morally shame them for doing so? Why is that? Because it’s legally permissible for Progressive to intervene in the suit? It’s not like Fisher is doing anything illegal. Or is it because it’s okay for corporations to pursue self-interest to the max, but not for individuals to do the same? I don’t get it.

And this one:

Why is the insured party’s use of the internet against Progressive “a shame”? As you clearly stated, the goal of Progressive is to limit their exposure and avoid paying. As such, Progressive will use whatever tools possible in order to achieve this goal, as they should.

In contrast the goal of the other party is to get Progressive to pay and should equally use whatever tools available to them to achieve this. To not attempt to harness the righteous indignation and moral outrage of the internet in order to force Progressive into an untenable PR position would be tantamount to complete idiocy.

By using the explainable, but in some people’s minds morally repugnant, position of Progressive against it in the “court” of public opinion, currently residing on the internet it appears, the Fisher family simply did what they needed to to further their goal. Seems just as valid to me as Progressive choosing argue that the Katie Fisher was negligent in the accident that caused her death to limit their exposure.

Speaking for myself, I tend to agree with the last two comments. Of course insurance companies are going to act in a way so as to minimize their payouts and maximize their profits. But that doesn’t mean insureds or their families shouldn’t use all the tools at their disposal, including the bully pulpits of blogs and social networking websites, to try and shame the companies away from their cheapness.

It might not work — and there’s no real evidence that it worked here in the Fisher case, where it was really the jury verdict that forced a settlement — but it’s certainly worth a shot. If I have an issue with an insurance company in the future, rest assured that you’ll read about it in these very pages.

But that’s just my view. What do you think? Opine in the comments, and vote in our reader poll below. (And if you’d like to read the full Progressive statement, we’ve posted it on the next page.)

Do you approve of Progressive Insurance's handling of the Katie Fisher case?

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