By now you may have heard of the Twitter assault launched by comedian Matt Fisher about Progressive Insurance’s behavior in his sister’s wrongful death civil suit. It has now made the front page of CNN. So what is the real deal with the case? Is Progressive defending his sister’s killer? The answer is “sort of.”
Maryland Uninsured Motorist insurance law is very similar to Georgia law. If you sustain a serious injury or lose a family member in a car accident, there are two primary sources of compensation; the at fault driver’s insurance (liability coverage) and if that is not enough and you have uninsured motorist coverage then it provides a second level of insurance for the loss. Putting it in simple terms with the facts of the Fisher case, if the at fault driver had say a $25,000 insurance policy in place during the crash that killed Ms. Fisher, it is likely they would have paid that small sum immediately. In Georgia the Fisher family would have to grant a limited liability release to the at fault driver in exchange for the payment. The bad guy’s insurance would continue to provide him with a free lawyer to defend the case, but the Fisher’s could not proceed against his private assets. That is the trade off.
The next step is to present the wrongful death claim to the Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist insurer, in this case, Progressive. We do not know how much Uninsured coverage progressive had but let us assume for this conversation, it was an additional $100,000.00. In Maryland and Virginia, if Progressive refuses to pay the claim and argues that Ms. Fisher died because of her own bad driving, then the Fisher family has to sue the at fault driver and Progressive would be a “silent defendant” in the case.
In Georgia, a Uninsured Motorist carrier can chose to defend in their own name (exposing their existence to the jury) or in the shoes of the actual defendant. Here, Progressive chose to act as extra counsel for the defendant and took an active role in trying to prove that the crash was Ms. Fisher’s fault. So, Matt is right to a degree. A Progressive lawyer stood up in Court and told the jury that Ms. Fisher died because of her own bad driving. As a Uninsured Motorist carrier, Progressive went to war with their own customer. There is big money at stake.
Progressive has terribly botched the PR response to this case but the reality is that unless Progressive was completely without grounds to deny the claim, there is nothing unusual about what they did. Every day in the Courts of Georgia, USAA, State Farm, Allstate and all the rest fight with their own insured clients about whether claims are owed and the value of claims. When it comes to uninsured motorist coverage cases, it is very adversarial.
I understand Mr. Fisher’s anger when he realized they would stand up and blame their own customer for her own death. If the facts come to light to show that it was a groundless claim by Progressive, then they should be pilloried in the Court of public opinion. We know the jury disagreed with them to the tune of $760,000. However, if this really was a gray area case with strong crash reconstruction evidence on both sides, then their behavior is less villainous.
I think the only thing they can do at this point is respectfully point out whatever facts they felt showed a majority of the negligence landing on Ms. Fisher.
Make no mistake though, when you have to claim against your own insurance for uninsured motorist coverage, it is hardball all the way.