Progressive Insurance Stands Up For Killer Of Policyholder: UPDATE

August 14, 2012

UPDATED: Four times, and counting. See below.

If you're looking for a happy story to get you through the day, this isn't it. In fact, it's enough to send many folks back to bed, wondering if they can ever win against Big Insurance.

The details come from Matt Fisher, a member of the popular New York-based comedy troupe, Upright Citizens Brigade. But the story he posted yesterday on Tumblr is anything but funny.

On June 19, 2010, Matt's sister, Katie was driving in Baltimore, Maryland when she was killed crossing an intersection. All evidence points to Katie having the right of way, and the other driver running a red light, but as you'll see, that's not entirely important.

The key to this story is that the driver who killed Katie was underinsured

According to Fisher, the driver's insurance company settled quickly with Katie's estate. Fisher continues: 

[B]ecause 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.

Now, most of you are probably thinking, "Okay, then, just sue the pants off of Progressive." However, as Fisher points out, in Maryland, you can't sue an insurance company just because they refuse to pay out on a policy.

With no small amount of misgiving, Fisher's parents ultimately sued the at-fault driver, hoping that the lawsuit might convince Progressive to cough up the amount due. Instead, Progressive's legal team did something shocking: they defended the driver who killed Fisher's sister.

In other words, as Mr. Fisher eloquently says, "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."

Needless to say, a social media frenzy has begun a-brewing on Progressive's Facebook page and on Twitter. So far, the company has done little more than send a handful of canned tweets of sympathy.

Will Progressive cave to public pressure? Have any of you had appalling run-ins with your insurance company? You can share your thoughts and your stories below.

UPDATE #1: Progressive sent out this clarification about the story:

In response to today’s story involving Progressive Insurance, we wanted to share Progressive’s statement.

I’d like to take this opportunity to explain Progressive’s role in this complex case. First and foremost, our deepest sympathies go out to Kaitlynn Fisher’s family.

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.

--Chris Wolf, claims general manager, Progressive

Which seems fine. Except that it appears that Progressive isn't being entirely truthful.

Although the defendant was "technically" defended by Nationwide, news reports indicate that Progressive's in-house attorney, Jeffrey R. Moffet, assisted in that defense.

If those reports are correct, Progressive's coy, semantic word-play is flatly unacceptable. In fact, it's dishonest, condescending, and shows a stubborn naivety about the public's ability to uncover facts.

UPDATE #2: Progressive's PR firm, Allison+Partners, have issued the following statement:

Jeffrey R. Moffet represented Progressive and Progressive only. At no time did Mr. Moffet state, infer, suggest that he, in any way, represented [the defendant] Mr. Hope nor did he consult with Mr. Hope’s attorney on their defense. Mr. Hope was represented solely by his attorney.

The plot thickens. We'll see if Mr. Fisher has a response to these clarifications.

UPDATE #3: A commenter pointed out that Mr. Fisher has posted a response. Here's the most important bit:

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 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. 

So technically, Progressive may be telling the truth: it's possible that Moffet (or Moffat) didn't "officially" represent the defendant or consult with the defendant's attorney. However, if Mr. Fisher's account is accurate, Moffet (or Moffat) did, in fact, take part in the defense. Which is essentially the same thing. 

From where we sit, it seems like Progressive is playing with words. And in the PR world, playing with words is about as smart as playing with live grenades.

Your move, Progressive.

UPDATE #4: This story is causing so much hubbub, it has roused the old Gray Lady. The New York Times paints a fuller picture of the case -- and the egg on Progressive's face. 

[via Mashable]

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