As we have noted before, the insurance industry spends about $6 billion a year trying – largely unsuccessfully - to get drivers to switch their car insurance policies. “The challenge is how to stand out from the other guy,” says Jon Swallen, a longtime industry observer who is chief research officer for brand tracker WPP Kantar Media. “When you have big brands all trying to stand apart, the challenge isn't just yelling louder or more often, but creating a brand personality.”
I've got some “brand personality” ideas for the insurers who won’t pay what they owe Katherine Shea. Depraved, immoral, shameless, evil. Or as Babu from Seinfeld might have suggested, "bad, very very bad.”
Katherine Shea ("Kay") was an 83-year-old widow, active and vibrant living independently in Missouri and in excellent health. But in 2011, a 17-year-old swerved his SUV into her lane, smashing head-on into her Ford Taurus. The impact crushed her vehicle and caused extensive trauma to her body, requiring multiple surgeries to try to repair her mangled body, as well as to her brain. She spent over 5 months in medical facilities, accumulating $800,000 in hospital bills. She is now in a wheelchair except for short walks using a walker. She needs help dressing and showering. She cannot prepare her meals. Even very simple tasks, like getting a glass of water, require assistance. And, “she was forced to move to another state to receive full-time care from relatives.”
Her nephew Dan Shea, who lives in San Diego, at first tried to negotiate a settlement with Farmers Insurance. First, they would not negotiate. Then Kay was offered a low-ball figure, which would have essentially left her penniless. Like many people dealing with recalcitrant insurance companies, she was forced to sue. The insurance company lawyers tried to crush this terribly hurt senior citizen in court - even though the 17-year-old driver never denied fault and was well-insured. But they failed. Kay won. The jury believed her and awarded her a substantial, much-needed sum to pay for her injuries and ongoing care. Wrote her attorneys:
On October 3, 2013, after four days of trial and four hours of deliberation, a Franklin County jury returned a verdict of $2,162,000 in favor of Katherine. In addition, Katherine is entitled to pre-judgment interest in the amount of $100,335. The jury heard evidence that Katherine's paid medical bills totaled $185,000 and that the amount billed by providers totaled $800,000. The present value of Katherine's care requirements, as presented by plaintiff's expert, was approximately $2 million.
You're probably feeling relieved. Don't. The insurance companies (both Farmers and Nationwide are involved) are still fighting her and won’t pay a dime. Here’s what a local San Diego station reported over the weekend:
“They're just delaying, delaying, threatening appeals, asking judge for a new trial,” said Dan.
Craig McClellan appears in the documentary as the Shea family's advising attorney:
“One of the reasons the insurance company delays is because it can make more money and its money by keeping it and using it, than if it pays out a large sum to a seriously injured person.”
For Dan, his crusade is not about the money, but rather regaining his aunt's dignity and educating others on what he says is a growing problem.
"Before you have an accident, make sure you understand your coverage because believe me they're looking for ways out," explained Dan.
Kay, meanwhile, is still fighting to be the vibrant woman she once was. She just hopes she'll still be around when and if her case finally settles.
"And, you know, I've always been determined to make it. I'm afraid I might die if I don't," she said.
Dan made a film about his aunt and put it on his website, http://insurancebadbehavior (I had to spell that out) called “The Iron Lady”. That’s “iron” as in “all the metal plates in her body.” You can find it here. And here's an excerpt: