Sunday, November 4, 2007

I couldn't have said it better myself

Here's a cut and paste from an article in the Seattle Times re: Referendum 67.

As I used to tell our law office clients, "If insurance companies treated their customers fairly, I would already be out of a job. This isn't personal to you. They do this to everyone."

As the law stands now, insurance companies do not pay a penalty for wrongly denying or delaying legitimate claims. How insurance companies make money is not by your premiums. Rather, they make their billions by investing your premiums in the stock market and other investments. The longer they hang on to your dough, the more money they make. That's why referendum 67 is so important. When you're about to lose your house because you can't work and your insurance company isn't paying up, you want the incentive that Referendum 67 gives to make them pay right away.

Seattle Times
Sunday, November 4, 2007 - Page updated at 02:06 AM

Insurers keep us spinning
By Danny Westneat Seattle Times staff columnist

I have been twirled by a lot of spin, but rarely does it fling me all the way into a parallel universe.

It happened last week. Courtesy of an industry whose creativity in shaping an alternate reality never ceases to amaze. I'm talking about the insurance industry. And a woman I know named Ethel Adams.

You may recall her. She was driving a few years back, minding her own business, when a car slammed into her, crippling her for life.

Her insurer, Farmers, refused to pay any damages related to the crazed man, Michael Testa, who caused the wreck. It wasn't an accident, they said, because Testa was trying to ram his girlfriend's car.

"Liability insurance is only for accidents, and this wasn't an accident," Farmers said.

It was to Ethel. All hell broke loose for Farmers. They were pounded by customers. The insurance commissioner demanded Farmers pay up or he'd pull their business license.

Here's what I wrote then:

"The logic here is impressively tortured, even for an industry known for exploiting technical loopholes. To argue that Testa, who went on a rampage and then was sent to a psychiatric hospital for delusions, could have possibly intended to crash a car into Adams, a woman he didn't know existed, is truly an outrage."

Yet it is an outrage that was repeated last week.

Insurers are spending record amounts against Referendum 67. That's a vote Tuesday on a law passed by the Legislature that would increase penalties when legitimate claims are denied or delayed.

Last week an ad ran in support of that law, featuring Adams. It said her story showed that insurers do sometimes unreasonably deny claims.

Then the spin started. An insurance-backed group put out a news release saying the ad was a lie — that a well-meaning Farmers always intended to pay and was only held up by a "technical glitch with the law."

"Ambiguities in the law complicated delivery of her policy coverage," said the release. "But once the facts were revealed, coverage was promptly provided."

That should be in the spin hall of fame. It is what is known as a "true lie" — each word has some purchase on the truth, but the sum heads far off in another direction.

You don't have to take that from me. When insurance lobbyists testified about the Ethel Adams case, even they said it was an outrage. The Safeco lobbyist called it "egregious."

What hacks me off most, though, is that the news release repeated the central canard of Ethel's case. It said: "Ethel Adams was intentionally injured by a road rage motorist."

No, insurance people, she wasn't. She was an innocent bystander, remember? Whom you tried to shaft with semantics. Until you got caught.

I have no idea if Referendum 67 is a sound law. I doubt many voters do, either. We ought to leave these decisions to the people hired to make them — the Legislature.

But I have learned this: The insurers still don't think they did anything wrong to Ethel Adams. It was all some glitch. Nothing to do with them.

And you know what that means: They'd do it again if they could.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or

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