corporate whores in the news

New York Times Columnist Bravely Defends Fortune 500 Company From Comedian, Grieving Parents

Sad FloWell thank heavens, the Paper of Record is here to valiantly defend a Fortune 500 company from bereaved parents and the internet, which is exactly why we have the First Amendment, of COURSE –to better enable our press corps to write articles like this one, which is literally called  “Progressive’s Side of the Insurance Case That Blew Up on the Internet.” Because how will Progressive Insurance, a Fortune 500 company with its own 6500-piece modern art collection, defend itself without the help of the New York Times’ “Your Money” columnist typing up its side of the story?

In case you have a life outside of the internet: last week a comedian named Matt Fisher took to Tumblr to tell the story of his family’s experience with Progressive Insurance, claiming that (among other things) his sister paid Progressive’s insurance to defend her killer in court:

I’ll try to cleave to the facts. On June 19, 2010, my sister was driving in Baltimore when her car was struck by another car and she was killed. The other driver had run a red light and hit my sister as she crossed the intersection on the green light… In Maryland, you may not sue an insurance company when they refuse to fork over your money. Instead, what [my parents] had to do was sue the guy who killed my sister, establish his negligence in court, and then leverage that decision to force Progressive to pay the policy. [My parents]  filed a civil suit against the other driver in hopes that, rather than going to court, Progressive would settle. Progressive did not. Progressive made a series of offers (never higher than 1/3 the amount they owe) and then let it go to a trial. At the trial, the guy who killed my sister was defended by Progressive’s legal team.

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And, as the New York Times article confirms, all of this is true.

[Progressive] sent its lawyer to court — not to assist her estate but to argue that the driver of the other car, who had a suspended license and little insurance, was the innocent party…. The challenge with [certain types of] coverage, however, is that it pays you money only if the other driver is at fault. Many states, recognizing the subtleties in assigning blame, will pay out partial claims based on the share of responsibility. But Maryland is among a small number of states where insurance policyholders may get nothing under the terms of their underinsured motorist policies if they’re even 1 percent at fault.

So what can we all learn from this horrible experience? Is the REAL lesson here a) we should all read our policies so we know exactly how bad we will be screwed by our insurance companies, or b) we should have a serious conversation about the possibility that the free market is not suited to prevent bad actors absent a robust regulatory regime? Clearly, the answer is a)!

After several requests, I finally got Progressive to come to the phone and explain in detail, out loud and on the record, why it chose to fight Ms. Fisher’s family in court.

In the end, the saga of Ms. Fisher and her family isn’t just about whether Progressive made a needless mess of its reputation this week. And it’s not simply about whether everyone should drop their Progressive policies in protest either, as scores of people have threatened to do. We also need to take a close look at our own coverage and determine whether we have a fundamental misunderstanding of how our various auto insurance policies actually work.

Gee, and what should we do about it if our insurance policies DON’T actually work? Or if we can’t afford decent coverage and then our car is totaled by an underage, uninsured drunk driver and we incur tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills and our insurance company says we are entitled to nothing (which by the way is exactly what happened to our friends last week)? Maybe the New York Times can tell us what to do about that.

…I went back and checked my own insurance policy and realized that while I have $1 million of liability coverage, I had the minimum amount of uninsured motorist coverage. My guess is that at the time I made that decision, I figured that my separate health, life and disability coverage would cover me in the event of an accident involving somebody driving around with no insurance.

That seems foolish in retrospect, given all the things that I might have to pay for out of pocket if I were hurt badly. Plus, it cost less than $6 a month to take the underinsured coverage up to $1 million.

The low price seems to indicate that the odds of making a claim are slim. But the Fishers’ experience suggests that having decent coverage is a good idea, and they are now considering increasing their own coverage.

Silly us! We thought that the Fishers’ experience suggested that a drastic overhaul of the system and a new regulatory regime would be a good idea — starting perhaps with changing that Maryland law — but turns out, the status quo is just fine! All we need to do is spend more money on products from insurance companies, and we’ll all do great. Surely these companies will pay us what we’re owed when the time comes! Also, you’ll never believe this, but Progressive was just acting in the dead sister’s best interests. For reals.

Progressive sure seems to have done absolutely everything wrong here. It paid out three liability claims, doubled down in court on its interpretation of the evidence that was behind those payouts, lost in court, was roundly mocked online, will pay the underinsured motorist claim to the Fishers after all and is now also paying them a separate settlement to avoid a hearing before the state insurance commissioner.

But Ms. Marsteller of Progressive said that the company was acting in Ms. Fisher’s best interest from the start. “You make a decision and you might get a lawsuit either way,” she said. “Our goal is to make the best decision overall for the insured, and I think we did that here.”

Wouldn’t the Founders be just beaming with pride if they could read this article defending corporate interests? After all, isn’t this why they bothered to give us the First Amendment, and with it, Freedom of the Press? Surely it is.

[NYT]

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About the author

Kris E. Benson writes about politics for Wonkette and is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy. This will come in handy for when they finally open that philosophy factory in the next town over. @Kris_E_Benson

View all articles by Kris E. Benson

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115 comments

  1. One_who_wanders

    God protect me from big companies acting in my best interest. I can deal with my enemies.

    1. mwittier

      I wish she'd go back to managing the Museum-Go-Round, on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

      And quasi-tragically get pulled into the sharp, unstoppable gears within.

    2. ph7

      I tried to get my 86 year old mother on Facebook, so she could communicate with and track her many grandkids. She didn't understand the concept at at all. I explained that you can see pictures of and communicate with people you know. She stared blankly at the screen, then spotted a Progressive ad in the corner of the screen. I KNOW HER!!! she shouted, pointing to Flo.

      1. viennawoods13

        You are brave. My mother is the same age and I tried last Remembrance Day to explain that I had posted a picture of her in uniform from WWII on my Facebook page, and that my niece, her granddaughter, had "liked" it. I swear, that took 5 minutes to explain, and it still didn't sink in.

        1. ph7

          It was a failed experiment for her and me. It tuned me in the fact that that technology can be isolating to the elderly. It's the principal form of communication that are excluded from. When I was a kid, I wrote letters to my grandparents telling them what I am up to, and they wrote back, even at an advanced age. But no one writes now, and the substitute is too complicated for many elderly, so the are left out.

          sorry for the threadjack.

          1. viennawoods13

            Agreed. I didn't have grandparents alive to write to, so didn't have that experience. Luckily, my sons live nearby my mother, and drop in to see her. My sister's kids, though, rarely see her and never communicate with her.

  2. BZ1

    Canada has many parts of it with a true progressive insurance system for automobile accidents called "no-fault" insurance, not everywhere mind you, as some provinces stick with the "insurance companies monopoly model".

    1. actor212

      Ironically, so do many states in the States.

      But even there, an insurance company is contractually obligated only to pay the minimum under the policy it can get away with but if it receives a larger settlement from the other driver than it paid you (plus legitimate expenses) it profits off your accident.

  3. freakishlywrong

    The fuck is going on at the NYT these days? They're such incompetent hacks I can barely do the crossword anymore.

    1. Woodshedding

      Yeah, they recently had an "article" (read, PR piece) in Opinion about a "scientific" test that showed that if you tell people to expect side effects from a drug, they'll get them even if they're in the placebo group.

      Similarly to this "just buy more insurance" solution, that article's suggestion was to not tell patients about potential side effects.

  4. ChernobylSoup

    One day God looked down and saw Satan just wan't doing enough evil deeds, so He created insurance companies.

  5. philpjfry

    Wait a minute, you thought that if you paid your insurance premium the insurance company would actualy do what they said they would when they took your money? Where do you live, socialist Russia? In America bank always find way to cheat you.

  6. mwittier

    Just the fact that they find it advisable to condescendingly and disingenuously market their product as a tangible, physical property (one of several boxed-up selections) sold by a buffoon is enough to steer me away from Progressive.

    It's an agreement being purchased; not a software disk in an oversized, overproduced, wasteful package (which, by the way, brilliant reference.)

    Just: no.

    1. actor212

      They beat that fucking little piggie…and boy, is there a more apt mascot for a fucking insurance company than a whiny squealing piggie?

      1. viennawoods13

        I really am fortunate- I watch almost everything on the webz, so I see none of these insufferable commercials. And if I am watching the teevee, it is usually on the TIVO so I skip through them. This saves me lots of time and mental stress.

  7. Misty Malarky

    Your premiums are how they paid for that Flobot.

    I actually tried their 'Good Driver' device several years ago. I can't begin to describe how creepy it was to get e-mails from them commenting on how many times I made a 'hard stop' during the week and why tsk tsk my premium would have to increase for the next month. But they were always sure I'd try harder.

    Yikes!

    1. comrad_darkness

      Wait, you volunteered for this? My town is full of idiots. Of course I stop fast a lot. So they don't have to pay a claim. Sheesh.

    2. Preferred Customer

      I sort of want to install that good driver device the next time I take my car to the track, just to see what kind of emails I would get.

      N.b., Progressive–making a "hard stop" is better than hitting the thing in front of you.

    3. UnholyMoses

      The first time I heard about thing, my first thought was "NO FUCKING WAY!"

      Like comrad_darkness pointed out: There are a LOT of morons on the road, and sometimes you have to react to what they do. And that little device is lacking the crucial element: context.

      WHY did you have hard stops? WHY did you have to go a bit over the speed limit or mash the accelerator? Fuck that shit — they'll find anything and everything to excuse a premium increase, and I sure as hell won't give them ammo.

      And I don't give a shit of the guy who started Progressive leans left politically. His company sucks giant Floballs.

  8. Pragmatist2

    Here's a fundamental fact: Insurance companies (all insurance companies) are your enemy. You pay them to cover your risks and their interests are 100% adverse to yours. Every time. That doesn't make them evil. It makes them something that should go away because they are economically inefficient. They take overhead to cover your risks and then they try to avoid covering your risks. When idiots say that government bureaucrats will make health care decisions, I say "better them (who are neutral) than iunsurance bureaucrats (who are paid to screw you).

    1. Veritas78

      Why aren't there cooperative insurance companies whose shareholders are the policy owners, like credit unions?

      If anyone knows of something like this, let me know. 'Cuz there's definitely a market niche for this.

      1. Pragmatist2

        There are. They are called "mutual" insurance companies. But you are still paying for the art on their walls, the golden parachutes, the private jets.

        1. Pres.Beeblebrox

          Yes. The most famous is State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, which is not known in the world of personal injury attorneys for its soft, fuzzy, claims-paying-without-dispute attitude towards its "shareholders." In fact, SF will shaft you every chance it gets.

    2. NellCote71

      Yes, let us all jump on the bandwagon where we get to negotiate our health insurance with private companies when we are the oldz. Because they will surely have our best interests.

      And don't get me started on how badly my so-called home owners policy has screwed me. I am really befuddled to know exactly what they do pay for since so far it does not seem like they will pay for anything.

          1. tessiee

            It was intended to amplify your sarcastic point about how megacorporations can be relied upon to do the right thing when they harm helpless old people.

    3. tessiee

      "Insurance companies (all insurance companies) are your enemy. You pay them to cover your risks and their interests are 100% adverse to yours."

      I'm not disputing your point — in fact, I think it ought to be broadcast over the PA system at least once a day — but I think there's a difference.

      As we used to say freshman year of college, this is a capitalist society. All businesses exist to make money. They're not a charitable institution, they don't pretend to be — and I'm OK with that.

      The difference is that, as much as Walmart or Target may suck balls, when I go to buy something, and exchange money for it, they actually have to give it to me. They can't take my money and then decide they don't feel like giving me the book or the pair of socks or whatever that I just bought.

      Insurance companies, by contrast, can take my money for months, years, decades… and then, when I want the coverage *that is the product that I bought and paid for*, decide that. hmmm, they'd rather not.

      THAT is why insurance companies get the most humid and fart-smelling room in Hell

  9. memzilla

    What we need is an insurance policy to defend us against being f**ked by insurance companies.

    US Constitution? Wait… what?

  10. Come here a minute

    Pissed off about insurance companies delaying payments while fighting amongst themselves? "Happens to me all the time!"

  11. SoBeach

    If we only had tort reform like the GOP wants this would never have been an issue. For Progressive.

  12. Terry

    I hope people are actually leaving Progressive, although the others probably aren't much better. A loss of revenue is the only thing an insurance company will understand.

  13. comrad_darkness

    Also, don't get insurance from a publicly traded company. Go with one owned by the policy holders.

    Some years you get a dividend check back, even.

      1. comrad_darkness

        This depends on your state. I see now that our home insurance company is now part of a group. http://www.uticanational.com/ I'm not even sure how that changes things, honestly. Some of the mutuals ran a conversion that made them shareholder owned, but not publicly traded. Just to confuse things.

        Best bet is to find an independent agent in your area, call them on the phone and tell them what you are looking for. They should know what's available in your area.

    1. eggsacklywright

      I briefly saw Lovitz on Piers Moron whilst flipping around the other night and he came off as a bigoted Republican cunt. Perhaps I misheard.

  14. Katydid

    All you lieberals are pathetic. These parents are trying to live off Obummer's failed Socialism policies…Progressive has every right to freedom of association, and they choose not to associate with this woman's family. Why are you trying to take away her freedomz? Also too job creators.

  15. MacRaith

    Well, it was the victim's own fault for not being a corporation, wasn't it? You can't expect corporations to care about merely human people.

  16. JustPixelz

    I won't be driving for a while. I have to read my entire policy. Plus the laws of my state. Plus all the legal precedents courts follow in applying those laws. If I live long enough to finish that, then I have to read my health insurance policy. Caveat emptor!

  17. Chow Yun Flat

    Our goal is to make the best decision overall for the insured, and I think we did that here.

    This might make sense in a culture that doesn't communicate by using words but what could it possibly mean here?

    1. sullivanst

      This makes sense in a culture that doesn't believe that words have meanings, but are purely tools for achieving selfish goals. For example, Republicans.

    2. One_who_wanders

      They have severed the common meaning of those words and replaced them with Orwellian Newspeak type definitions.

  18. sullivanst

    How the hell did it not occur to the "journalist" to ask exactly how trying to fuck over the victim's surviving family had anything to do with her "best interest". Oh wait, I know how, journalism is dead in this country, and journalists have been replaced by scribes. I'm surprised noone's thought to fire them all and replace them with interns carrying speech-to-text capable dictaphones. I suppose that might seem like it wasn't "serious".

    Anyhow, if there's one thing that might conceivably be said in Progressive's defense, it's this: the problem isn't specific to them, it's the Maryland law. Faced with idiotic statutes like that, it's more or less required of insurance companies, at least those with shareholders, to try to screw over their customers. Any other insurer would likely have done the same thing, and thus dumping Progressive to go to any of those other insurers who would have done the same thing is unconstructive.

    Talking about increasing limits is just fucking stupid talk though, when the law is that on the slightest excuse the insurer will pay zero, nada zip. 0% of 50 bajillion is still zero. So I repeat: journalism is dead in this country.

    1. Guppy

      How the hell did it not occur to the "journalist" to ask exactly how trying to fuck over the victim's surviving family had anything to do with her "best interest".

      Because this guy is a "columnist." Much like cable news, we're all supposed to be able to instantly divine the difference between "news" and "entertainment."

      1. sullivanst

        If anything that makes it worse since he's presented as some kind of expert, and the column is “Your Money”, not “It's Progressive's Money Now, Suckah!” Still no sign of life in American journalism.

    2. bobbert

      You are 100% correct that the underlying problem is the Maryland all-or-nothing liability law. (Under which, if you were only 99% correct, it would be the same as being wrong).

      Higher limits for UUI may actually be a good idea (it's cheap, and the higher limit would be a good thing if you actually collect), but this has nothing at all to do with the main story line here, so — as you say — journamalism fail.

      While I agree that Progressive-the-corporation was forced by the Invisible Handy to try to minimize their pay-out, I'd say their handling of the matter was indefensible, even on corporate P&L horsepucky grounds, to wit: (1) if they only ever offered 1/3 as a settlement, they weren't trying very hard; (2) given that the victim was killed by a red-light runner, the chance of establishing even 1% fault had to be pretty small; (3) creating a PR debacle where you are the obvious villain is rarely sound marketing strategy.

      1. sullivanst

        All very true, but you think like a liberal, not like a board of directors. They don't know from PR debacles.

    3. tessiee

      "How the hell did it not occur to the "journalist" to ask exactly how trying to fuck over the victim's surviving family had anything to do with her "best interest". "

      Don't you remember? Uncle Raygun established the rule in this country that it is somehow bad form for journalists to ask questions.

      1. Me_K_Cong

        Yer right. That's when it happened. The Republicans were still mad about Vietnam and Watergate, and they correctly surmised if they could get reporters to stop having opinions, Americans would stop having strong opinions about much of anything.

  19. larrykat

    Crap, I always liked Progressive. My kid rolled my new Jeep a few years ago and I had the check (more than I thought it was worth) in, like, two days. What to do, what to do…

    1. pepperpat

      Don't cross the street when you have the right of way if a reckless driver who has Progressive Insurance is approaching, and everything will be just peachy.

  20. Guppy

    If Progressive doesn't like the bad publicity this Maryland law is getting them, they can easily afford to send lobbyists to the quiet rooms in Annapolis and get things changed. What's the big deal?

    1. tessiee

      "If Progressive doesn't like the bad publicity this Maryland law is getting them"

      yeah, doing horrible things to people makes them not like you. Who knew?

      "Mr. Burns: This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail."

  21. Pithaughn

    What are the chances the actual perp getting behind the wheel at some point? 100% ! Good thing he his not in Sweden where he would be banned for life for shit like this.
    Over 250 people die from auto accidents EVERY day. If terrorists were killing this many the US would be spending billions per week to get revenge. Who are the perps? It's us , our attitude while driving is "I must do whatever it takes to shave a few seconds off my over all drive time!! I am so important that my irrational decision making is justified even if it endangers hundreds of innocents"

    1. tessiee

      As a relative of mine says whenever someone zooms through traffic: "Hey, look at that guy! He's in a hurry to get to the accident."

  22. DahBoner

    So, I got one of those "snapshot" devices plugged into my car's diagnostic port.

    But they won't give me a discount, probably because I drive after midnight in bad neighbothoods (Detroit).

    But I'm keeping it plugged in, because it's a Poor Man's Lo-Jack.

    Supposedly Progressive *might* tell me where it's located, if stolen….

  23. tessiee

    But Ms. Marsteller of Progressive said that the company was acting in Ms. Fisher’s best interest from the start. “You make a decision and you might get a lawsuit either way. The difference is that WE can afford better lawyers and more of them, so fuck you.”

    1. Willardbot9000_V2.5

      Yep…that pretty well sums it up…and if you don't like it, where you gonna go? All these insurance companies engage in game theory so their "innovation" amounts to better ways to fleece you and then when you need them to pay to tell you to fuck off…wingnuts are of course such demented morons that they think this business model is just fine and dandy. I'll say one thing, if I could make it legally mandated that people must make an agreement with me to drive a car (under penalty of a large fine or jail for repeat offenders) and to cover their losses and also make it so legally I don't have to honor my agreements I'd make a lot of money too…. but when I do it or the mob does the same it's an illegal 'protection' racket that carries 15-life. When insurance companies do it…it's a praiseworthy business model. It's unbelievable to me how this bullshit works…

  24. bobbert

    Purely for informational purposes: USAA (if you were ever in the military) and Amica (which used to operate by referral, not sure if still the same).

  25. ttommyunger

    Rather be a chicken caught in a tractor's nuts than get crossways with an insurance company again. Iss all about the moneez!

  26. Willardbot9000_V2.5

    This comment is so full of derp it angers me…here is a teachable moment for children: what is the difference between a hypocrit and a non-hypocrit? A hypocrit demands other people live by rules and standards that they, themselves refuse to live by (RMoney, Republicans, rich people, etc.). So what this moron is writing is that the reason the family of this slain woman was wrong and Progressive was rightly acting in her 'best interests' is because neither she nor her family was aware her policy fucked her so badly with this type of occurance. But then the idiot goes on to admit that until RIGHT at this moment and DIRECTLY as a result of this event (cause-effect) he checked his policy and learned he had the same problem; thus, in his brain OF COURSE they were wrong for not knowing previously about something he, himself did not FUCKING KNOW ABOUT EITHER. Now, instead of writing a VERY different column about how insurance companies fuck you in the fine print and maybe some I dunno…legal construct should be made to correct this…instead it is the fault of people who didn't take steps this high and mighty columnist would himself not take. Fucking corporate hack…and yet this argument is made ALL THE FUCKING TIME in this country as to why its the person's fault and not the corporation who victimized them.This kind of lazy, stupid bullshitty corporate hackery is the norm of the mainstream media; and they wonder why we get so angry with them when they pull this shit. By the way….10/1 Progressive advertises in the NYT, yet another facet of why this column exists.

  27. Negropolis

    Is it bad that I still have a crush on Flo, and get mad whenever they have a Progressive commercial where she's not featured?

  28. Woodshedding

    Folks, this NYT piece is not a journalist-written article. It's written by one of the multi-billion-dollar PR firms who provide their clients' propaganda disguised as news stories to all forms of corporate-owned media. They do not charge for it, so the media outlets are able to fill their time between commercials without paying anyone to actually find and report the news. Think about it, how many times have you seen a "news" story about some new drug? Or the sequel to the latest blockbuster movie?

    The stuff they provide to "liberal" media is usually more subtle than the stuff given to the evening news. But blatant crap like this does show up often enough at NYT, proving that their readership is on average nowhere near as smart as … well, a sixth grader maybe.

    BTW, fully 50% of the evening news stories, for at least a couple of decades, were PR-supplied propaganda. That may have increased by now; last time I checked was in the late 90's. The point is, even though all the big media are corporate owned, so that it becomes a bit of a moot point, stuff like this doesn't even issue from them, but directly from the corporations via their publicists.

  29. Halloween Jack

    Just to play Devil's Advocate, I'd like to note that Matt Fisher is an employee of Glenn Beck. I guess that big corporations screwing over people is different if it's you.

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