The Elephant in the Courtroom: Insurance Companies
Superbowl Sunday brings new commercials every year—some good ones that bring smiles and laughs, others that make your heart feel good, and some that just make you cringe or scratch your head. Which industry spends the most money on advertisements? I’d say insurance companies….
Aaron Rodgers throwing his tennis ball a bit too far, the Chris Paul look-a-like shattering the mirror with the kettlebell, Patrick Mahomes getting a haircut, and Peyton Manning and Brad Paisley singing duets—these are all commercials for insurance. Some insurance companies don’t use star athletes or singers in their commercials—they rely on beautiful images of a family with words like “protect,” “safe,” and “secure.” Others rely on a lizard with an accent, although I haven’t seen that reptile for a while.
Insurance is a necessity in American society: you’re required to have auto insurance to drive a car, and you get home insurance when you sign a mortgage. And that doesn’t have to be such a bad thing. By paying premiums every month for years and years, we are investing in the civil justice system. When something bad happens, the insurance company is supposed to step in: policyholders pay money to the insurance company for the insurance company’s promise to provide coverage if the need arises. It’s the insurance company’s job to step up for the insured wrongdoer and make things right for the victim who has been harmed—to fix what can be fixed, help what can be helped, and make up for what can’t be fixed or helped.
So what’s the problem?
Two things really: (1) Insurance companies are not human; and (2) Insurance companies are for profit businesses.
Insurance companies aren’t terrible at evaluating the cost of a broken windshield caused by Aaron Rodger’s errant tennis ball, or the mirror shattered by the kettlebell that slipped from the Chris Paul looka-like, or the hoofprints on the hood of the car left by the dancing deer. Those are property damage losses, and the insurance company has a system for appraising the repair or replacement value.
But what about the value of an injured person never being able to sit in a chair without pain again, or someone’s ability to do a Sudoku puzzle being taken, or the grief and sense of loss experienced because of a loved one dying in a crash? Insurance companies fail miserably here, in part because they are not human. Insurance companies value economic loss—not human loss. And because of this lack of humanness, insurance companies fail to protect the humans the company signed up to protect—both the insured wrongdoer and the victim harmed by the insured.
Insurance companies chose to be in this business to make money. It’s not like insurance companies signed up out of the goodness of their heart—they don’t have hearts…. Despite the pretty phrases “like a good neighbor,” “on your side,” “in good hands,” or “peace of mind,” insurance companies are extremely conflicted entities: they are multi billion-dollar international corporations designed and engineered to collect as much in premiums and pay as little out on claims as possible.
How much do you think the insurance company pays guys like Peyton Manning and Brad Paisley for an hour of their time filming a commercial? $100,000? More? And yet, what about when someone is injured by that insurance company’s insured? What value does the insurance company place on an hour of excruciating pain, an hour-long surgery, an hour of physical therapy to try to regain strength in an injured leg, an hour of being paralyzed—when the injured individual is not Peyton Manning, Patrick Mahomes, or Aaron Rodgers? What does this say about what the insurance company values?
What happens when an injured person makes a claim against an insurance company? Unfortunately, all too often the answer of the insurance company is to deny, delay, and minimize. If a fair settlement is not possible without litigation, the injured person is forced to file a lawsuit. Who do they sue? The good neighbor? The talking lizard? No. The named Defendant is the insured—the person who many times paid premiums for years in exchange for the insurance company’s promises to protect their interests. And most every time, the insurance company has said NOTHING about the injured victim’s attempts to settle the matter without filing lawsuit, and even after the lawsuit is filed, the named Defendant remains in the dark about what’s really going on. Whose interests is the insurance company truly protecting?
Our civil justice system has a curious rule. Most of the time, there can be no mention of the insurance company holding the purse strings during a trial. It’s like the rule in fightclub: never talk about the insurance company, even though everyone either knows or is wondering about it….
So in most civil cases, there are two humans (the Plaintiff and Defendant—neither who really want to be there most of the time), and the non-human insurance company calling the shots from the shadows. The insured Defendant is just a pawn used by the insurance company, and the injured Plaintiff is just a number that the insurance company is trying to minimize. Imagine if the insurance company valued the injured person’s life the way they value its commercials?
What’s the answer for the insurance company’s callousness? Human beings like you. Part of our bill of rights guarantees injured victims the right to a civil jury trial—a trial heard by everyday human beings who decide the true value of an injured victim’s harms and losses. Human beings who value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, stand up to insurance companies by placing value on the time an injured person was forced to spend going to medical appointments and physical therapy rather than going for a walk with a friend or a bike ride with their child. What if the insurance company valued that life the same way they valued Aaron Rodgers appearing in their commercial?
If you’ve suffered or are suffering harms and losses, and an insurance company is failing to recognize the value of what’s been taken, I hope you’ll call me. I promise to value you as a human being, and to fight for your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness*.
*Credit to David Ball (David Ball on Damages) and Nicholas and Courtney Rowley (Running with the Bulls) for some of the ideas and language contained in this post.