What’s the difference between a bookie and an insurance company? The bookie won’t welsh on paying if you try to collect.
We just got done with a long, troubling fight with Safeco Insurance.
Early last April, my oldest kid’s car – a 1986 Porsche 944 Turbo – was sitting in front of his house one night at 2 AM. A drunk lady leaving a nearby bar plowed into it and split without stopping. Luckily, my son heard tires squealing and ran outside in time to get her license number as she sped off.
He gave the information to the police, who told him they thought it was likely a college student going home from a bar just down the street.
When the lady hit, the main point of contact was her car's right front wheel - it hit on my son's left rear wheel, smashing his car about a foot into the curb, and then forcing it maybe another foot forward along the curb.
Damaged in the crash were his two passenger side wheels, plus the wheel that took the initial impact, as well as some minor body damage at the point of impact. The crash also stripped the splines on his steering shaft and bent his left rear control arm.
The next day, my son went driving with a friend around the nearby university and in short order, he found the car. We turned that information over to the cops.
They issued the lady a ticket for hit and run – for leaving the scene of an accident. We found out she had Safeco Insurance. And thus started our saga with Safeco.
It took nearly two weeks before Safeco would admit responsibility – during which time, my son was left in limbo. I finally got disgusted and got a rental car for him myself – which to be fair, Safeco did end up paying.
Over the next few weeks, we got a real education.
Safeco changed sets of adjusters/investigators three times. Each time this happened, it was like starting the whole process over again, because the incoming and outgoing sets seemed not to communicate with each other about the case at all.
Doing some research, I found out this is a very common tactic insurance companies use if they feel things are not progressing well – they send in Team B, which repudiates any agreement you might have had with Team A – and generally makes it hard on the claimants. It wears the claimants down.
Then every few days, they’d have their “car rental” person call my son to tell him that they were going to cut off his rental because “according to their estimates, his car should have been fixed by now…” Even though they had not decided whether they were going to total it or not.
This is another common tactic designed to pressure claimants and put them in a bind – if their rental is taken away and they don’t have transportation, then they’re much more likely to settle quickly and settle for less.
Through threats, coercion, a complaint to the state Insurance Commissioner’s Office and maybe 120 emails, 90 screaming phone calls and various other forms of persuasion, I was able to get them to extend my son’s rental car for about two months. But every week, it was a humongous, new fight.
Then there was the matter of the repairs. Safeco’s initial estimate was around $4,000 in body and mechanical repairs. We had trouble finding a garage that could do the mechanical work on the car, but finally found a place that gave us an estimate for about $4,100. Different body places gave us estimates of around $4,700 for body and cosmetic damage.
We communicated that to Safeco, and then told them before we started repairs, we wanted to know that if any other problems were found that were caused by the accident, that they’d be included as well. We wanted to know precisely what they were willing to pay for.
Safeco told us they needed to re-examine the car because they weren’t sure all the damages claimed were caused in the accident. They wouldn’t commit to paying for anything at all until their investigation was complete.
Because of this uncertainty, we told the garage to hold off on starting any repairs, until we found out exactly what Safeco would pay for.
Throughout this period, time and again Safeco assured us the car was repairable and was not going to be totaled.
This dragged on and on for several weeks without any progress. Their investigator went and talked to all my son’s neighbors trying to dig up dirt. Their adjuster went and spent over two hours inspecting the car at the repair shop and talking with mechanics.
During this time, we also kept arguing back and forth with Safeco about the car’s value. Their initial valuation was $6,500 – set by the adjuster who came and inspected the car right after the accident. They never moved off that throughout the whole thing until the very bitter end.
The replacement cost or pre-wreck value of your car is set using “comparables” – the sale prices of cars that are directly comparable to what you have – the same make, year, model, equipment and mileage. If none are available locally, then they can use cars from other areas to set the value.
To justify their low-ball valuations, Safeco uses a service called CCC Valuescope. CCC Valuescope is a data collection firm that works for insurance companies. They collect information from used car ads nationwide – newspapers, CraigsList, AutoTrader and the rest – with an eye towards low sale prices. So therefore, if an insurance company goes to them and says, “I need comparables for a 1986 Porsche Turbo that sold for under $6,000…” CCC Valuescope can usually give them precisely what hey need to justify the low-ball price.
By maintaining a database of low-ball prices, CCC Valuescope saves insurance companies thousands and thousands of bucks.
But their valuations are complete bullshit: just because there was once a Porsche 944 Turbo that went for $3,000, it doesn’t necessarily mean you could find one today. Nor does it speak to the quality of the “comparable.” We went round and round with Safeco about this.
All while we were fighting about those points, periodically someone else from Safeco would call the garage asking if they were done with repairs yet because “according to their estimates, repairs should have been completed…” I found this particularly annoying because of course the reason repairs hadn’t been completed was because we were waiting for Safeco to finish their investigation.
On May 13, I spoke with a Safeco senior manager, Meg Self. I inquired why it was that Safeco continued to call the garage on a daily basis asking if repairs had been completed, when it was still up in the air as to what repairs would be authorized.
She admonished me for waiting for them to make a determination – she had a nasty tone to her voice and was talking down to me like I was some kind of moron. She stated that my son, as owner of the car, was the only one who could authorize repairs. He had not done so, and since the car should have already been repaired, according to their timelines, then the rental car was being terminated forthwith.
I said to hell with it and I called the repair shop and told them to go ahead with repairs. Then the next morning after thinking it over carefully, I changed my mind and called them back and said to not start – luckily.
Instead, I sat down and wrote yet another nasty letter – this one to Mike Carroll, senior regional manager for Safeco, suggesting they “shit or get off the pot” and make a determination on whether the car was totaled – and demanding that until they did make a a determination, they’d damned well pay for my son’s rental car. I also filed a complaint to the Insurance Commissioner’s Office.
As it turns out, we were very fortunate to have disregarded Meg Self’s admonishment and not started the repairs – because three days later, Safeco emailed us saying they had determined the car was a total loss.
We were then turned over to the third set of Safeco adjusters – the “Total Loss” adjuster, a low-life, weasel named David Rucker.
Right off the bat, when I called Rucker, he informed me that he had nothing to say to me – he didn’t want to speak with me because the claim was my son’s, so there.
I told him I thought maybe the real reason he didn’t want to deal with me was because it was a lot easier to bully and take unfair advantage of a 21-year-old kid. He hung up on me.
A few days later, we received their offer – still precisely what they had originally given for the value - $6,500 – still supported by the bogus, CCC Valuescope data, and with a buy-back option for about $750 (salvage value). At the same time, they cut off my son’s rental car again.
I responded with another flood of angry emails disputing the valuation and the salvage value as well as the rental car. I also beat up on Rucker for trying to exclude me from handling my son’s claim when he had designated me as his spokesperson – simply because it was easier to take unfair advantage of a young kid.
That elicited a near-apology from Safeco. They also ended up extending the rental car again and agreeing to hire an appraiser to set the valuation.
We hired our own appraiser who fixed the value of the car (pre-wreck) at about $11,000.
Finally, Safeco raised their offer to about $10,000 - which would have been pretty reasonable. BUT - at the same time they increased the salvage value (buy-back cost) to about $3,000 - all but wiping out the increase to my son.
What Rucker told us, was that they had "sold" my son's car at a "virtual" auction online conducted by a company called CoPart, and someone (un-named) had supposedly offered $3,000, thus, the increase in the salvage value.
They wouldn't give us any information at all beyond that - no name or phone number or any other details surrounding the alleged "auction." No way to verify the facts.
I found out CoPart is another big player in the insurance company business these days. They conduct online auctions for salvage vehicles submitted by insurance companies.
Unlike say eBay or other online auctions, CoPart auctions are all done completely in secret. No bidders are identified (not even a screen name or whatever), so there’s no way to prove that in any auction, any real bidders actually participated. Nothing at all to prevent say Safeco shills or anyone else from logging on and running up the price with phony bids.
And then to top it off, my son’s car wasn’t “sold” at one of CoPart’s normal online auctions. It was sold at what they call a “VIX auction.” A “virtual” online auction – where all the bidders (real and otherwise) know the cars are not actually even for sale – just that they may be for sale sometime in the future. No one is a actually going to buy a car in one of the VIX auctions – they can’t because the cars aren’t actually for sale.
Is someone bidding in an auction like this going to spend money like it was a real auction? I think not. People spending Monopoly money often are more generous than with real money.
I can’t believe a price set in one of these virtual auctions is going to be even close to a real price – in the real world, salvage value is almost always not more than 10-15% of the car’s pre-wreck value. What Safeco came up with ($3,000) was nearly 30% of the pre-wreck value. It’s just not credible.
The whole thing was clearly just a sham.
I filed another complaint with the state Insurance Commissioner's Office against Safeco for insurance fraud. They investigated but did nothing at all.
In the end, we accepted Safeco’s last offer - there were no injuries or something sexy that'd interest an attorney. And it wouldn't have been cost-effective for us to pay one.
Basically, what I found is that if you're involved with someone else's insurance (a third-party claim) you're SOL – Shit Outa Luck. First-party claims (when you sue your own insurance company), you have lots of specific rights - plus, if you can prove they unreasonably denied your claim or otherwise screwed you, you can get triple damages - which looks pretty awful sexy to an attorney. But none of that applies if it's someone else's insurance. If you’re dealing with someone else's insurance, the insurance companies can do as they please and never fear being held accountable.
I think it's clear that Safeco committed insurance fraud to screw my kid out of $3,000. But proving it would be problematic. So after almost three months of some very intense fighting, we finally just gave up.
We did get Safeco for almost $1,000 in rental car fees - and I feel very good about that. They were gonna cut it off after about two weeks (and thereafter every week or so) but by bitching and being generally combative, we were able to have him keep the car for a couple months.
And yes, my son was able to repair his car himself, and it’s back on the road, good as new. But he still got screwed.
If I ever have to deal with Safeco again, it'll be way too soon. Happily, I'm quite sure they feel that way about me, too - I did my very best to make their life miserable for a while, and did actually succeed to a large degree.
Insurance companies are blood-sucking scum and are lower than the lowest of the low...