Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Best Policy For Negotiatiing With The Other Guy’s Insurance Company

My reflexes twanged like the sudden release of a compound bow string. Clutch in... Downshifting in progress... Binders on... Eyes searching for an escape route in the fraction of the second dealt me by the left-turning vehicle swinging through the intersection. There are many visions that remain with a man throughout his life. Mine include sunrise in the Adirondacks, sunset in Hawaii, and a half dozen women (over the course of 30 years) who occasionally got naked around sunrise or sunset depending upon the perceived depth of my sincerity. To these I have now added the image of a predatory mini-van that suddenly filled my horizon.

Though the K75 was stopping cleanly and honestly, the front of the van pulverized the fairing and slammed the bike to the ground. For the briefest moment in time, I became the world’s largest airborne mammal. Imagine a pilot whale instantly weightless through the gift of trajectory. The sensation ended when I bounced off the front of the van and came to rest on the ground.


The once proud "Blue Balls" with the unique Sprint Fairing... 
Struck down by a left-turning mini van in Virginia.
(Photo by Leslie Marsh)

I flirted with consciousness as pressure gave way to a pain in my chest. A pain that quickly spread throughout my body. A pain that would last months after the initial impact. The excruciating pain that comes from dealing with the other party’s insurance company.

An insurance company is a vertical cash-generating instrument that promises to minimize your liability in the event you have caused injury, damage, or death to someone else; or to minimize your loss in the event you are the one being scrapped off the minivan.. The key word here is “minimize.” Insurance companies do this by paying out the “minimal” amount of money required to resolve a claim.

Insurance companies and gambling casinos have a lot in common. Everybody has heard of individuals winning millions of dollars on 25¢ slot machines. Ever met one? Likewise, we have all heard stories of people who have been awarded millions of dollars in negligence cases. Like the guy who dropped the coffee in his lap at MacDonalds. I bet you’ve never met one of those folks either. Insurance companies stay in business by guaranteeing that the cash flows in one direction. (Although this has not been the case recently where at least one huge insurance company and its investments in mortgage guarantees are concerned.)

Imagine a 50-story silo with a huge vacuum in it. The vacuum sucks up millions of dollars daily, through policies, investments, real estate schemes, and retirement funds. Insurance companies claim they must have billions of dollars, even trillions, in reserve to pay up in the event of a national disaster. For example, a tornado touching down in a metropolitan area on a busy weekday could cost an insurance company plenty, especially if they had to pay out on all the claims submitted by people holding weekday metropolitan area tornado policies.

Insurance companies have pleasant sounding names to give the impression that you are dealing with a kind of petting zoo or something. I found myself communicating with a firm whose name conjured up images of an Amish collective. Yet the lady I usually spoke with there had a voice that sounded like fingernails on a blackboard. Insurance company personnel are carefully selected from a gene pool in which Komodo dragons are crossbred with pit-bulls. This guarantees the perfect disposition for customer service. If you must meet with one, it is advisable to toss a piece of meat onto the table first. This level of distraction could work to your advantage -- unless there are two of them.

Claim representatives have a way of asking questions that imply you are either attempting to steal something from them personally, or are just stupid. These include:
• That was the closest doctor?
• Did a doctor advise you to take the rest of the day off following your release from the emergency room?
• Was your head re-attached immediately or did they wait 15 minutes?
• Have any of your previous suicide attempts on a motorcycle been this close to success?

One of their best questions is, “Are you still seeing a doctor?” The best answer to this is, “Yes, but not so much for the accident... But for the voices in my head that tell me to bite through the throats of people who trying to screw me over small change.”

When writing to an insurance company, it is important that you be concise and to the point, without a hint of emotion in the text. I accomplished this by keeping my notes relatively short (exactly as if I were writing a Valentine to a former spouse). Then I advise stapling them to a severed horse’s head before mailing. (This is how I really do communicate with one former spouse.) I can guarantee this will get you ab return call.

An insurance agent may ask for your permission to take a recorded statement regarding the details of the accident over the phone. I said “yes” to this request, then asked them to schedule a time for the call. This gave me an opportunity to rent a recording studio and to hire a sound engineer. When I gave my deposition, I had the engineer provide appropriate sound effects to emphasize the points in my story.

When I described the impact, the engineer generated the sound of screeching brakes, accompanied by a huge thud, and the tinkle of broken glass. As a nice touch, he added an elderly female voice that said, “Take that, you pile of biker shit.” In response to a question about witnesses, the engineer played mob noises from old Frankenstein movies, with actors yelling out, “That poor guy on the bike is almost dead... Was the other driver on the phone...” And the ever popular, “Is that abottle on the front seat of the car?”

Sometimes the insurance company will send you a form demanding the right to investigate your work records, previous health records, and other data that appears to go far beyond the realm of the accident. The form will be accompanied by a note that says “failure to comply with this request could delay your claim until years after you are dead.” A careful reading of the document will reveal there are virtually no limits to the information they are seeking. It also empowers the insurance company to share this data with anybody. I mailed mine back to them, unsigned, asking for the social security number of everyone who worked at the insurance company, just so I could confirm I was not dealing with convicted felons.

Never attempt to threaten an insurance company with a lawyer. This is like threatening a tiger with a bleeding gazelle. The average insurance company has 3 adjusters, 2,500 clerks, and 40,000 lawyers on the payroll. I recently visited the headquarters of the Mutually Transparent Corporation, a large insurance company based in the midwest. I had lunch with their chairman in the company cafeteria, where all of the waiters were attorneys. If you want to threaten an insurance company, tell them you’re hiring a tornado. (Tha scares the shit out of them.)


Threatening an insurance company with attorney is like
threatening a tiger with a bleeding gazelle.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

You will learn a lot dealing with an insurance company. For example, I learned the value of a flawless BMW K75 in mint condition is only $167.84. This is according to the Royal Enfield/Ural dealership they checked with in Sri Lanka. Yet if you want to buy the wreck back, they can let you have it for $3850.00. This is apparently due to the difference in the currency between Sri Lanka and the US.

It is crucial that you remain civil, helpful and polite with claims reps regardless of the way they handle your claim. I always ended each call on a cheery note, saying that they would never know just how much their efforts meant to me. Of course, they’ll figure it out if they read this story.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A shrug)

22 comments:

Rogers George said...

Too bad that's so close to the truth! Val just settled her claim with the kid who ran into her two years ago. She'll have neck pain the rest of her life.
While I'm at it, check out my new web site. It's much more civilized. articlesbyreg.com

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Rogers:

You are getting to e a first class blog remora. Nevertheless, I will be happy to look at your blog this morning. Does it mention a motorcycle today?

Thanks for dropping by.

Jack

Grandad 43 said...

Jack, you were upset when posting this as it exists twice on your blog.
I recall similar contact years ago when my daughter was involved in an accident, hit by underage drunk driver.
A successful business man I know, said it is best to hire a claims adjuster to represent you. It appears to work out better for you.
Regards,
Grandad 43
PS 14

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Grandad43 (Dave)

Thanks for calling that to my attention! I deleted the second copy. I still don't know how that happens.

Fondest regards,
Jack

Joe Dille said...

Jack,

I am that guy. A couple of stoned dudes hit the back of my 8-day old S-10 while I was stopped at a red light. The insurance company sent me 2 checks for the bumper. I sent one back. I have not tried stopping a minivan with my bicycle.

Ride Safe,

Joe

Tor Hershman said...

Capitalism = Terrorism
Communism = Impossible
Wha-ya-gonna do?
Oh yeah, blog post – like this.

Anonymous said...

Jack,


You are right in that Insurance companies are not in the business of handing out money. They are there for the sole purpose of taking money in. Unfortunately, I have dealt with many of these guys and your assessment is right on the mark. However, the story had me smiling so much and starting to laugh, that my new stitches are really acting up. Thanks, dick.

Love,

Big Jim

John said...

I was hit head on by a guy who ran a red light (and was cited) and a stop sign (also cited) and failed to yeild right of way (also cited for that. It was in 1989, I was driving a 1977 Toyota with over 100K miles on it, but was a great runner. The first offer they made was actually funny. So I got a lawyer, and eventually they paid my way through college. I would have been happy if they would have made me a offer that would have replaced my car with a comparable one. But they never learn. I was willing ot wait it out, others can't so they get screwed. Just not right.

showmnship said...

Jack,

Only YOU could impart such information in a serious and educational manner.

Thanks for the info! LOL

Brenda

Todd Trumbore said...

Jack,
A funny and sad story but so true and well stated in true Riepe fashion. I have been very fortunate only having been rear ended a couple times, nothing close to what you went through.

It's a shame that after you suffer through the physical pain, then you have to deal with the mental anguish of dealing with the insurance adjusters.

Luckily Jack, you survived this one and are back in the saddle with a new set of wheels.
It'll take more than a 3 ton van to keep you down. By the way is it true the van was totaled?

Mike said...

Jack,

One small detail that has been provided to me by a reliable source is also noticeably absent from both this story and your original recounting of the accident - the young lass standing on the corner. In the realm of actions demonstrated to get the attention of nearby women, your Flying Wallendas impression was probably not the best choice, and for the record, while you were laying in the road bed post-weightlessness, and passing in and out of conciousness your riding partner, Breg Dickstein, walked over and tried to chat up the hottie that you were so intent on impressing. He was expectedly unsuccessful and her attempts at slapping him across the face were foiled by thet fact that he was still wearing his full-face helmet on - ATGATT proves itself yet again.

I'm glad you have started your blog - a much safer way to impress women and I highly enjoy your writing. I can't write at your level thus the reason for trying out the theater - this way I can simply recite someone else's writing a la Cyrano.

Mike Evans

Charlie6 said...

Luckily, Progressive put up no resistance to the bills generated for the repairs of my 1150RT back when I hit ice in June. Yeah, June.

Car insurance and accidents thereof is where I learned: Don't accept a settlement check if the amount is not right, in Colorado you have the right to face the other guy in court and probably win if he was found at fault at the accident scene by the cops. However, once you accept the check from their insurance company, the courts close out the case.....just something to keep in mind.

I am just glad you survived the accident so that you can continue to entertain us with your great narratives.

dom

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Joe:

You'd be that guy if the insurance company sent you two checks for $12 million each.

Fondest regards,
Jack

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Tor:

Absolutely.

Fondest regards,
Jack

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Big Jim;

I'm glad this story made you smile.

Fondest regards,
Jack

Jack Riepe said...

Dear John:

For every person who gets a lawyer, twenty others just take the first check. So it is cheaper for them to pay you and screw everybody else.

Fondest regards,
Jack

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Showmanship (Brenda):

Making you laugh is the reason I live. Glad you liked the piece.

Fondest regards,
Jack

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Todd:

Everyone has at least one good insurance company story. Unfortunately, I also have two good former marriage stories... One bitten by my own dog story...
And at least two good stories involving the police, tear gas, and a bra in my glove compartment story.

Fondest regards,
Jack

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mike (Evans):

There is no shame in finding yourself involved with community theatre... Unless you suddenly burst into show tunes at a Mac-Pac breakfast or dinner. In which case, your pain will be boundless.

I'm glad you read my blog regularly, and take my advice. Rogers does too.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Like condoms, insurance companies are a necessary evil. Regrettably, they occasionally turn rogue and invest heavily in financial market derivatives.

Fondest regards,
Jack

IanA3 said...

Jack,

Great story. The dirty little secret is most people are wimps. We're taught from a very young age not to stir up shit.

Insurance companies take this into account when they figure out how much they can soak us for. They do have a backup plan. If too many claimants are as mouthy as me, they trot out one of their legal experts (not lawyers, their lawyers don't scare me). Their legal experts don't ever talk to us or our counsel, their "legal experts" are recognized as "the gentleman from....." and introduce legislation that somehow retroactively keeps us from being reimbursed for actual losses....usually.

The same trait which causes She-who-must-be-obeyed to hide her face in mock embarassment when I think I'm getting screwed over can convince most folks to back the fuck off.

We're raised to not draw attention to ourselves. Those of us who get past that and can string words together coherently in a strong, loud voice tend to get our money back if the product was faulty, get reimbursed if our property is damaged through someone else's negligence and can get 24 hour fitness to let us use the free month without all the BS.
(We also tend to collect the freebies when we do the 90 minute time-share presentation.)

Another great read though. I think you were either upset or further into the bottle of Jamieson's when you posted this. Not to nitpick, but I don't think i've seen typos from you before.

Ride safe, and fuck'em

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IanA3

It's always a pleasure to hear from you. I'm delighted you found so much in this piece to commont on. Others did as well. It seems that nothing inspires conversation like screwing or insurance, probaby because they have so much in common.

Thanks for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jack