How to Hate an Insurance (or Any) Company

· Jonathan Poritsky

Last week, Matt Fisher took to the web to vent about Progressive Insurance, who stooped to assisting in his sister’s killer’s defense to avoid paying out her policy. The heartbreaking story went viral, forcing Progressive into panic mode and changing the scope of the case. The company responded with a non-starter explanation, but now things are looking up (as up as they can be) for the Fisher family.

I’ve noticed, as this story has grown, that many people are making Progressive out to be the ultimate villain, sometimes cheekily.1 While there is blood on their hands, so to speak, there is a lot more at play here. Here’s Matt’s original post:

Out of a sense of honor, and out of a sense of the cost of my sister’s outstanding student loans, my folks opted to try to go after the money through legal channels. At which point they learned another delightful thing. In Maryland, you may not sue an insurance company when they refuse to fork over your money. Instead, what they had to do was sue the guy who killed my sister, establish his negligence in court, and then leverage that decision to force Progressive to pay the policy.

The emphasis is Matt’s, but I’d add it here as well. I know nothing of Maryland’s laws, and in fact I can’t point directly to the offending legislation that would take away a citizen’s right to justice.

However, I can tell you a movie to watch that will help: Susan Saladoff’s Hot Coffee. Here’s what I had to say about it in my review last year:

The title comes from one of the most notorious civil lawsuits in recent history, the 1992-1994 case of Stella Liebeck, then a 79-year-old woman who sued McDonald’s after she spilled hot coffee on herself. Liebeck became a punchline after a court awarded her $2.7 million in punitive damages. The case brought so-called “litigious lawsuits” to the national stage and set off two decades of reform which have in many ways crippled our access to the civil courts. Collectively, we all bought into the story that Liebeck took advantage of the system, but did she?

I bet I could go up to most of my progressive, more liberal-minded friends and ask them if they remember the case of the woman who sued McDonald’s because their coffee was too hot and get a response along the lines of, “Yeah, that was ridiculous.”

And now we can’t sue corporations when they wrong us. Ridiculous.

Again, from my review:

You can write to your senators and congresspeople, or to the President for that matter, but it is only within the courts that the average American can take on an insurmountable force like McDonald’s and win. For a brief period, the pendulum swung on the side of the citizens. Was that such a bad thing? Now, we find ourselves in a time when corporations have begun shutting down our access to the courts.

Progressive didn’t treat the Fisher family like shit (just) because they’re villains, they did it because they could. I applaud the Fisher family for taking the difficult route of going after what was owed to them, but I especially appreciate the latest note from Matt on his blog:

As we move forward, we hope to focus on celebrating the joy that Katie brought us and working to change the balance of power between policy holders and the insurance companies they pay to protect them.

This isn’t a problem limited to insurance companies. Go read your cell phone or credit card contract, for example, and see how much wiggle room you have if you get screwed, even if it’s the company’s fault. Better yet, read the contract you signed at your job.

I encourage the Fisher family to look at what laws have been passed that put the courts on the side of corporations and see what can be done to reverse them. And I encourage everyone to go out and see Hot Coffee. It’s streaming on Amazon now. Watch tonight if you can.

The headline of this post promises to tell you the secret to hating a company. Here it is: don’t. Dig deeper and figure out what it is that makes them capable of acting in such a horrific manner. Then work to change that.


  1. Jokes abound across the Web blaming Flo, the company’s hipster mascot, for example. ↩︎