Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Trial Lawyers Name Top Ten Worst Insurers: Hatchet Job or Food for Thought?

David Letterman has a Top Ten list. Now, America’s trial lawyers have theirs.

The trade group formerly known as ATLA – American Association for Justice – has released a list of the ten worst insurance companies in a free white paper, “The Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America.” (Download at

Drum-roll, please … Here is the list

1. Allstate
2. Unum
3. AIG
4. State Farm
5. Conseco
6. WellPoint
7. Farmers
8. UnitedHealth
9. Torchmark
10. Liberty Mutual

Some observations. First, the list contains a mix of P&C carriers, health insurers and specialty niche carriers.

Second, claim services (or lack thereof) figure prominently in making the list. Other factors include marketing and underwriting practices, poor corporate governance, etc.

Third, a unifying theme of many case studies is the existence of strong financial incentives for adjusters to deny claims. It refers to incentive plans where adjusters get free portable refrigerators for leading the office in claim denials. For example, it asserts that AIG locks claim checks in vaults, delays paying defense attorneys for a year and holds pizza parties to destroy documents.

Three of the Top Ten had retained management gurus McKinsey to come in and figure out how to pay fewer claims.. The “good hands” were replaced by boxing gloves in campaigns designed to delay, deny and defend claims. Good hands? No, but some consumers did think they got the good finger.

It will be interesting to see what if any industry response is forthcoming. Folks within insurance often wonder why that industry does not enjoy a better public image. I have heard and seen no rebuttal to the AAJ white paper. Surely there is an insurance trade group that can muster a response. To let this critique go unanswered would seem to be damming.

To be sure, this is one side of the story only. “The flattest pancake has two sides” and perhaps each company on the list has its own response. If so, let’s hear it. Insurers have no monopoly on problems. When it comes to excoriating greed, the plaintiff's bar can be caught living in their own glass houses as they toss rocks. Witness the shenanigans of Dickie Scruggs and Bill Lerach, for instance. At least CEO’s usually have shareholders to answer to.

When I first heard of the AAJ Top Ten list, I tended to dismiss it, unread, thinking maybe it was a badge of harbor being so named. So personal injury lawyers hate insurers. Big news!

On further reflection, I urge all claim folks – especially those in upper management – to read the report to gauge how financially driven metrics can be over-weighted to produce dubious results.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Of all People, an Adjuster Should Know!

Apparently in St. Paul, MN a young girl was riding her bike when hit by a car driven – and then drive off – by a Farmers Insurance Company claims adjuster. (You can check out the story yourself at 13-year old Sydney Carlson was beneath the car which, fortunately, came to a stop. The driver got out, apologized but then drove on without checking for injuries or calling 911. The girl recalled that the car had a Farmers Insurance logo on its side.

Contacted by the girl’s father, Farmers acknowledged that one of its claim adjusters was driving the car and that the Company was investigating.

Incredible. You would think that if ANYONE knew to stop and stay at the site of an accident, it would be an insurance adjuster. Isn’t that advice given by every insurance company to its own policyholders? This just shows perhaps that no one is immune to a brain fart. The skills and advice we apply in our professional lives sometimes flees us when it comes to our personal lives. This is not, however, to justify the adjuster fleeing the scene.

Maybe the adjuster was en route to investigate a traffic accident when he ended up having one of his own. It reminds me of a story told about a bus operator in England. After weeks of customer complaints that he drove right by the bus stops without stopping, management called him in and demanded and explanation. Unrepentant, the bus driver stated, “There is no way I can make my time checkpoints if I have to stop and actually pick up passengers!” Maybe the adjuster had certain time standards for completing claim investigations and he simply could not hit his “best practices” benchmarks if he had to stop after every pedestrian or bicyclist he ran over.

Of course, now the Farmers adjuster will need his own adjuster. Physician, heal thyself.

Likely he will need his own defense attorney as well.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Few, The Proud, The … Adjusters?!

I’ve always said that claim adjusters were like the Marines of the insurance industry. Marines represent the country’s “tip of the spear,” translating highfalutin policies into real action.

Similarly, it falls to the claims people on the front lines to translate those lofty marketing assurances and policy provisions into concrete service.

Now, it turns out that the Marines and insurance adjusters may have more in common than I ever thought. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times (“Marines Act as Paymasters to Afghans”) (,0,5963950.story) describes how the Marines in Afghanistan are reimbursing Afghanis for property damage and business interruption occasioned by fighting the Taliban.

The article quotes Marine 1st Lieutenant Shaun Miller as saying that paying claims was not exactly what he signed up for when he became a leatherneck. At times, he says, he feels like an . . . insurance adjuster!

Marines playing claims adjuster in Afghanistan raise a number of interesting case-handling issues, none of which are likely addressed in any of the Insurance Institute’s Associate in Claims texts:

· What kind of receipts are acceptable in processing a herdsman’s business interruption claim from destroyed poppy fields that would have yielded him a profitable drug crop?

· If you pay for a killed goat, do you value the loss on an ACV or replacement cost basis?

· In the event of a “total loss” of the goat, is there salvage value in using the goat’s remains for a dinner roast?

· Has ATLA (or, excuse me, Lawyers for Civil Justice, or whatever they call themselves this week) set up a branch near Kabul to make sure that the Marines abide by fair claim practices?

For now, these will have to be rhetorical questions. Adjusters may occasionally find themselves in tough situations, but none so tough as those faced by the brave Marines in Afghanistan and elsewhere who must add “claims adjuster” to their repertoire of professional skills!