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Progressive exploits its own customer in car crash case

December 1, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Progressive gets to hide its policy limits from jury — but also use them to undermine $1.3 million verdict for its own Progressive auto accident customer

If you’re considering buying auto insurance from Progressive — especially “underinsured motorist” coverage — then you should know about how the insurer exploits its own insurance policy to avoid having to pay benefits to its customers when they are seriously injured in car accidents.

Specifically, as demonstrated in a recent case, Progressive:

  • Hid its policy limits from a jury because the defendant is an insurance company.
  • But was still allowed to use these same policy limits to shield itself from being held liable for — and having to pay — the million-dollar car accident verdict that ultimately was awarded by the same jury in the trial.
  • In a nutshell, Progressive and other insurance companies in Michigan can use underinsured motorist coverage as a sword and a shield against its own customers.
  • They get to hide the policy limit amount and force their own customer to go to trial, hoping for a very conservative jury and very low verdict so they don’t have to pay the contractual amount they promised to their customer (why not, no risk or exposure to the insurance company, only to its own customer).
  • If however the jury verdict is higher than the UIM policy, they can use the policy limit amount as a shield and only pay the policy limit amount, even though they forced their own customer to go hire a lawyer, spend thousands of dollars in costs, and be forced to trial!

With such bad faith shenanigans as this, it’s no wonder Progressive has been named — on more than one occasion — to our own Michigan Auto Law car accident lawyers own list of the Worst Auto Insurance Companies.

The worst part of Progressive’s trial strategy is that it’s legal.

Potential customers should know if they’re getting the protections they are promised when buying Progressive Insurance.

My own personal opinion as a Michigan auto accident lawyer, based on actual cases and actual clients, is they are too often not.

How did Progressive exploit its policy limits to avoid paying UIM benefits?

In Andreson v. Progressive Michigan Insurance Company, car accident victim Debra K. Andreson sought “underinsured motorist” benefits from her auto insurer, Progressive Michigan, after she was injured in a high-speed, rear-end collision at an Eaton County intersection.

Progressive refused to pay, claiming Andreson wasn’t entitled to pain and suffering compensation because she hadn’t suffered a “serious impairment of body function and because her injuries were not “causally related to the auto accident …”

Consequently, Andreson sued.

Before the case went to trial, Progressive demanded successfully that the jury not be told “the UIM policy limits,” which, for Andreson, would have been $200,000.

And the ploy worked: The jury returned a verdict of $1.3 million against Progressive Michigan and in favor of Ms. Andreson.

But that didn’t stop Progressive.

The insurer insisted that it only had to pay — i.e., was only liable for — the limits under its UIM policy with Andreson.

The trial court said “No,” reasoning that:

“‘[T]he jury’s verdict cannot be looked at as being clearly excessive’ because ‘the jury was not made aware of the [UIM coverage] limits at the request of’ [Progressive Michigan]. Essentially, … Progressive Michigan waived the UIM policy limits by requesting that the policy limits not be disclosed to the jury.”

Sadly, the Court of Appeals didn’t see things that way:

  • “‘[A]bsent an express agreement to the contrary,’ either parties’ decision to not inform the factfinder of a policy’s limit ‘does not amount to a waiver of the limits of liability under the contract.’”
  • “In this case, there was no express agreement between the parties to waive the UIM policy limits. Nor did defendant, through its counsel or otherwise, expressly waive the policy limits.”
  • “Thus, the trial court could not enter an award for Debra [Andreson] that exceeded the maximum liability agreed to by the parties in their contract …”

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