I've heard complaints about my pieces on insurance companies, as if it is unfair to them when I describe things they actually do to people. Well, it's not always stuff that has happened to my clients. Let me tell you why I, personally, hate one particular insurance company.
I owned a 1995 Jeep Wrangler. Bought it brand new and parked it in a parking lot behind my condominium in a very nice suburb of Detroit. People familiar with Jeeps know they are not the securest vehicles out there. The plastic windows would barely slow a thief down and there are things which can be removed from them quickly. Like the doors.
One winter morning, with six inches of fresh snow on the ground, I walked out to find the doors missing from my Jeep. On that Jeep, there was only one nut you had to remove to get each door off. I know, because I had removed them myself in previous summers. It probably took the thieves – there were two sets of footprints – about a minute to pull the doors off.
I filed a police report and then called my insurer, one of the "-state-" insurance companies. They told me to take it to the local Jeep dealer for repairs. I drove it over in the freezing cold but the dealer was only two miles away and I could get there using side streets. Still, it was a precarious trip. The Jeep dealer told me they don't stock full doors and would have to order them. Then, the doors needed paint. It would take a week or so. I called the insurer again and asked about authorizing a rental.
"We can't give you a rental."
"Your Jeep is still drivable isn't it?"
Yes, in theory, a Jeep is drivable without doors. As noted, I had driven mine without doors before. But it was winter in Michigan and the roads were shin-deep in snow and slush. Driving any distance on major roads in these conditions would have filled the Jeep with slush, ruined the interior and whatever I was wearing, and I would have frozen to death. So, I told her that.
"Sorry. Your policy only covers a rental if your car is 'undrivable.' We will pay for the repairs but not a rental."
I told the writer at the dealer I needed a rental and was working on it with my insurance company. I gave him my credit card and took the rental. I spent the week calling people at the insurance company and getting nowhere. They kept insisting that the Jeep was "drivable" and hence, no rental was needed. As far as I could tell, none of these people had ever seen or driven in snow.
The dealer had a bit of trouble with something. Not sure if it was getting the doors assembled or painted but they called me twice to tell me they were running behind schedule. When they did call me to tell me it was done, I went in and talked to the same guy I had talked to before.
He asked me about the rental and I told him the truth. The insurer was refusing to pay. He checked his computer to see if the claim for the doors had been authorized and it had.
"Are you serious?"
I told him I was.
He shook his head. "Forget the rental. We didn't get your Jeep fixed as soon as we promised. We'll pay for it." He punched a few keys on his computer and handed me the papers. The rental was "No Charge."
I drove my Jeep with its brand new doors to my office and called my agent and cancelled my policy.
"Why?" Yes, he actually asked. He had been the first one I had complained to when the insurer had told me they wouldn't pay for the rental.
"You live in Michigan. Would you have driven the last two weeks without doors on your car?"
He stammered and said something about the "relationship" we had - good neighbors and all that.
The phone cord in my office stretched far enough for me reach my door. I closed it. "I don't care about our 'relationship.' You couldn't help me when I needed it and that insurance company is a bunch of –" At this point I began screaming at him so loudly he probably could have heard me if he stuck his head out the window and hung up the phone. It was ugly. I said things. Very dark, frightening things.
I quieted down to end the call. "Just cancel my policy as of today. If I have a refund coming, send it immediately. If I don't see it promptly, I am going to sue you personally." I hung the phone up.
I then went and apologized to everyone on my side of the building, who were briefly worried about my mental state but could now see I was going to make it.
Meanwhile, I did not sue the insurer. Because the Jeep dealer ate the rental, I had nothing to sue them over. But I'm sure you now understand why I hate them. And I have taken an extra bit of perverse joy when I have gotten to sue them on behalf of clients who have also been screwed over by them.
Why do insurance companies behave like this? Well, look what they did here: They scammed the Jeep dealer into paying for my rental car. And yes, I have insurance on my present car albeit with a different insurer. Insurance is a necessary evil. When you find an insurer you trust; cling to them like Kate Winslet clung to that piece of wood as she callously watched Leo drown. Even so, they will probably turn on you someday. It's just what they do; it's their nature.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 23 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation.
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Photo by Jim Epler