Archive for August, 2014

Questioning the Police? Be Prepared to Overcome the Hero Worship & Wagon-Circling

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2014 by thebluebros
Police Angel II

Is this really representative of every police officer?

There are two major challenges a person faces any time he or she speaks about a police officer in terms that reflect anything other than gratitude or appreciation: hero worship and wagon-circling.

Police are not alone in being labeled heroes. Other professions in which the members of said profession are described as heroes include: doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, and our military service members. Basically, if your job potentially saves a life (or you are a teacher), you get to be a hero.

While it is noble that we have collectively decided to honor police officers (who have unquestionably chosen a life-saving profession), the much ballyhooed adoration goes overboard. This is a problem because of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who choose to be a police officer, not all of them are swell people who deserve to be labeled a “hero.” As one friend recently pointed out, some seem to think the laws of statistics do not apply to law enforcement. When we point to one of these non-heroes with concern, the hero-culture tries to shut the criticism down. Sometimes the questioning is squelched by police officers who have begun to believe their own hype (i.e., “Don’t question us. Didn’t you hear? We are heroes.”). Other times the questioning is thwarted by people who think the only way to support the police is to believe every single one of them is a hero despite all evidence to the contrary.

The other challenge in questioning the actions of a police officer is the wagon-circling of police any time criticism is raised against anyone within their ranks. Any person who knows a police officer probably knows what I mean. Police officers do not think of their fellow officers as co-workers; rather, they are “brothers.” While this sentiment is understandable, helpful, and even somewhat admirable, it too often clouds where police’s first duty lies—not to their fellow officers, but to their community and the people in it.

The result of all of this is that police–a profession where higher accountability is critical due to the disastrous consequences of failure–face less accountability than many other types professionals. This lack of accountability is only possible because too many officers and their supporters operate under the unsupportable belief that every officer is infallible.

In my profession of law, I find that the vast majority of attorneys have no tolerance for dishonest or incompetent attorneys. They are difficult to deal with and give everyone in the field a bad name. As a result, attorneys’ conduct is heavily regulated (at least in Oregon). This was never clearer to me than last month when a younger attorney had her license to practice law revoked for 30 days because she changed the time on a parking ticket to try and avoid paying a small fine. Before the Bar got involved, she had already paid the fine, and when confronted by the Bar, she admitted wrongdoing and apologized. I have no doubt this public reprimand (which was published in detail in a magazine provided to every Oregon attorney free of charge) was humiliating. It will also follow her for the rest of her career. In fact, if you look up her name in the Oregon State Bar directory, it will, for the rest of her career, state that she had her license suspended for 30 days as a disciplinary sanction. This young attorney also could have lost her job over this. The Oregon State Bar, combined with peer pressure from other attorneys, does a very effective job of policing its members. The same cannot be said for law enforcement.

I recently witnessed the wagon-circling phenomenon combine with the hero-worship phenomenon in a very disturbing display. I know two police officers on Facebook, one well and one very distantly. The one I know well frequently posts about his job, and regularly receives comments along the lines of “We are so grateful,” “Thank you for what you do,” and “You are an inspiration.” Real hero stuff. With the recent press coverage of what appears to be pretty terrible police behavior (most notably in Ferguson, MO, but other places as well), it seems my Facebook friend police officer lost his cool. He posted on his Facebook page that he would unfriend (not just unfollow) any Facebook friend who posted anything that was not 100% supportive of police officers. Got that? Everyone was free to heap praise on him for being a hero, but any question about any police officer (even a police officer 2,000 miles away, whom he’d never met) was enough to warrant the ending of a friendship. The second police officer I know saw my friend’s post and commented that he had already been unfriending all of his friends who voiced anything but unconditional support for every one of his police brothers and sisters across the nation.

This is frightening. If this small population is representative of police in general (and I have no reason to think that it is not), police are taking affirmative steps to fish for compliments, praise, and adoration, and eliminate all input that challenges the notion that every officer is perfect (i.e., place themselves in a bubble of unquestioned flattery and adulation). This intentional detaching from reality was confirmed when my police officer friend informed me that law enforcement only had a “few bad apples” and “all were found and weeded out.” This came from an officer with 14 years of experience. Such irrationality and delusion from a person with so much power should frighten anyone.

There are approximately 1 million law enforcement officers in this country. Like any population of 1 million people, it will contain some who are incompetent, unethical, and cruel. Accordingly, we need to do two things. First, we need to begin by acknowledging that not every police officer is going to be a hero. And second, we need to find a way for police officers to recognize that their first obligation is to the community, not each other—and particularly not to bad police officers. This will require police officers be removed from their self-induced bubbles. Once these two goals are accomplished, perhaps the community and the police can begin working together to ensure each officer truly represents society’s finest.

– Dylan

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Saving 15% Never Cost You So Much: Geico’s War Against You

Posted in Uncategorized on August 5, 2014 by thebluebros

Everyone knows you can save 15% or more on your car insurance, but did you know that Geico is the worst auto insurance company in America?

To be sure, we all detest auto insurance companies, but in the universe of suckage, not all insurance companies are equal. Determining which insurers are the worst or the best (or more accurately, the least worst), is not an exact science. You can measure quality of insurance by any number of metrics, including: customer service scores, speed of payouts, amount of payouts, percentage of denied claims, and profitability. Ranking auto insurers is a confusing endeavor. Don’t believe me? Just google “worst auto insurance companies” and “best auto insurance companies.” You will find no patterns, and often times you will see the same insurer on the “best” and “worst” lists.

The rubric this piece uses to assess Geico as the absolute worst of the worst of automobile insurers is, “If you were involved in a motor vehicle accident, which insurance company would you most hate to be involved?” By that standard, Geico is the clear winner in our competition for the title of “Worst Auto Insurer in America.” No other insurer comes close to challenging Geico for this title.

As a personal injury attorney, I deal with automobile insurance companies every working day of my life. Each of them have certain reputations. For example, USAA is considered fairly generous, but its generosity is often times counteracted by extreme incompetence. Liberty Mutual is known for never hiring enough claims adjusters; the result being poor customer service and slow response time. Allstate is known for treating its insureds very well until a claim is filed; once a claim is filed, Allstate treats its insureds like unfortunate squirrels standing near the edge of the Grand Canyon—which is to say not well. The American Association of Justice named Allstate the worst insurance company in America, saying, “There is no greater poster child for insurance industry greed than Allstate.”

Geico’s reputation is quite different. Geico is known for fighting. It will fight everything. If that means spending $20,000 in litigation costs to avoid paying an injured person $4,000, it will do so. Some may consider this a positive attribute, but as I will explain below, this is terrible for anyone involved in an auto accident—whether that be the assailant or the victim, or the Geico insured or the non-Geico insured.

To provide some context, let me explain to you what typically happens in the most common of all motor vehicle accidents—the low-speed rear-end accident where the vehicle in back is found to be at-fault for the accident. In these very common accidents, the person in the front vehicle will sometimes experience soft tissue injuries (sprains/strains) and receive medical treatment for a few months before making a full recovery. The injured person sends a $10,000 demand to the at-fault driver’s insurance company, and after some back and forth, the case settles for an amount between $2,500 and $8,000, depending on a wide array of factors. That is normal.

The reasons these types of cases typically settle quickly include: (1) Liability is clear, meaning the at-fault driver’s insurer cannot go to trial and argue he didn’t do anything wrong; (2) Fighting these cases through trial is going to cost, at a minimum $20,000, and most people can recognize that $20,000 is more than $4,000; and (3) Many states, including Oregon, have a statute that requires the insurers pay for the injured parties’ attorney fees if they lose at arbitration or trial. These legal fees will almost always exceed the amount in dispute by a great deal.

Geico, however, has adopted a cynical strategy of fighting all of these low-impact cases. Geico has not publically announced its reason for this, but the only reason I can think of for their actions is that it believes if it can make the claims process painful enough for injured people and their attorneys, people will stop bringing lawsuits related to motor vehicle accidents. Let me show you what this looks like up close.

I have a case right now where my client was rear-ended by a teenager. He sustained soft-tissue injuries and treated for 12 months and eventually made a full-recovery. At the end of his 12 months of treatment, my client made the unreasonably low demand of $7,500. Geico responded by making my client a top offer of $1,500. Trust me when I say such an offer would be funny if it was not so insulting to my client who had suffered for 12 months with back pain that very much reduced the quality of his life. My client of course did not accept this offer. We went to arbitration and the arbitrator quadrupled Geico’s offer, giving my client an almost $6,000 award PLUS attorney fees to me because we beat Geico’s pre-suit offer of $1,500. This should not have been a surprise to anyone. This would be an expected award for a case like this—especially to a client like mine who is very likeable and credible. So how did Geico respond? They appealed the arbitrator’s award, and in November, we have a trial to dispute a claim for $7,500—a complete waste of jurors’ time, the parties’ time, the judge’s time, and the time of court staff. The only person who will likely come out ahead in all of this is me because Geico will very likely have to pay me additional attorney fees.

A similar case went to trial in Multnomah County two weeks ago. The plaintiff in that case, an 83-year old great-grandmother won almost $10,000 at arbitration, but instead of paying what they owed her, Geico appealed the award to a full jury trial. The jury awarded the grandmother an almost identical award as the arbitrator, plus a whole lot more in attorney fees. At trial, it was revealed that Geico had spent at least $8,000 in hired guns to come in and testify that Grandma was not hurt very bad. There is no way of knowing how much Geico spent hiring its own attorneys, but $15,000 would be a conservative estimate. And because Geico lost, it had to pay Grandma her attorney fees, which I expect were close to $30,000. Do the math. Geico spent somewhere in the range of $60,000 because it wanted to avoid paying Great-Grandma a few thousand dollars.

The result of all of this is that when a new client comes into my office and says, “I was in an auto accident,” my first questions are, “Was the other driver insured, and if so, who was his insurer?” If the answer is Geico, I tell them to prepare for a long, slow grind.

Some may see Geico’s behavior as tough, macho, or somehow noble. What these people do not understand is that Geico’s litigious practices are just as tough on those who have Geico insurance as those who are hit by someone with Geico insurance. The reason for this is that if you cause someone to be injured by your driving, your insurance usually takes care of it, and you are not much involved. It’s a pretty easy process, and that is how it is supposed to be. That is why we buy insurance. With Geico, however, you run a nearly 100% chance of being sued.

Being sued, even if you get free legal representation provided by Geico, is not fun. It means you are going to be deposed. This is where you are put under oath and an attorney hostile to your interests is going to spend hours asking you every personal detail of your life in search of a nugget he or she can share with a jury to make you look bad in public. A private investigator may look into your past and interview prior acquaintances who may have less-than favorable opinions about you. Then you have to go to an arbitration and then a trial where you have to take time off work and sit through days of mindless court proceedings and then get put on the stand where your past is made public and you are made to look dishonest and reckless. That is what your Geico policy gets you.

Geico actually does win some of its trials. This is usually done by hiring a team of doctors (the same ones almost every time) whose sole job is to write reports for insurance companies and testify at trial how they know the plaintiff was not hurt despite never meeting the plaintiff. The challenge for plaintiffs and their attorneys is that unlike insurance companies, we cannot afford to bring in orthopedic surgeons and biomechanical experts at a cost of $10,000 for a shot at winning $7,500. All we have is usually the primary care physician or chiropractor who will come in and say, “I treated this person the day of the accident and once a week for the next six months. They were really hurt.” Sometimes juries reach verdicts based on the number of doctors testifying (plaintiff loses), or by the credentials of the doctors testifying (plaintiff loses), or how well the doctors testify (again, plaintiff loses because often times this will be a chiropractor’s first time in a courtroom versus an insurance doctor who is in court three times a week). What these numbers show is that even when Geico “wins,” it loses. It does so because it spent more money than the case was worth and just put its insured through an unnecessarily miserable process.

Every time Geico loses one of these “small” cases (e.g., spends $60,000 for nothing), and even when it wins (e.g., spends $20,000 to save $5,000), those costs are absorbed into rates. A Geico supporter may say that such a strategy has long term gain that cannot be easily measured, such as discouraging injured persons and their attorneys from taking these cases. I have found though that quite the opposite is true. I have yet to meet an injured person who knows Geico fights every penny to the death, and when a personal injury attorney has a case against Geico, he or she works twice as hard. This is because the attorney knows this case is going to be litigated through trial and the attorney will be getting his or her attorney fees if the attorney can beat what is typically an abysmally low pre-filing offer (in fact, writing this article is against my self-interest as going up against Geico has so far proven to be a profitable endeavor for me). Further, even if this cynical strategy did actually reduce costs for Geico and its customers, is this strategy ethically defensible? Is it really okay for an insurance company to save money for insureds and shareholders by discouraging those who are truly injured from recovering what is rightfully owed to them?

In the end, Geico is a very bad neighbor. Its ad campaign is light-hearted, but its claims adjusting practices are cynical and cruel. If you are involved in an accident, pray it is not against someone with Geico insurance, and if you have Geico insurance, for God’s sake, change insurance companies. Maybe if enough people vote against these practices with their feet and purchase other auto coverage, we will see positive changes from our worst auto insurance company.

-Dylan