Insurance Industry Maggotry

Bill and Leandra Pitts were hurt in a car crash caused by the negligence of another driver. They sued the tortfeasor and eventually settled for $50,000, the full limit of the at-fault driver’s liability coverage. The settlement left them undercompensated, so they sought further recovery per the underinsured motorist (“UIM”) provisions of their own auto policy, issued by Progressive. (A half-assed description of how UIM coverage works is available here.)

Bill and Leandra were members of Southside Christian Fellowship Church in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Some church members, the Pittses included, regularly attended prayer/support sessions at the home of fellow member Ken King. The sessions, conducted under promise of strict confidentiality, featured intimately personal discussions of adultery, drug addiction, sexual orientation and other information that most folks would just as soon keep private.

In August 2005, with the litigation on the UIM claim still under way, a new couple showed up at the church. The members welcomed the n00bs, and they eventually became part of Mr. King’s prayer group.

What issue(s) did the newcomers have on which they needed spiritual guidance? Why none, none at all. Turns out they were James Purgason, Jr. and Paige Weeks, private investigators for an outfit called Merlin Investigations. Progressive and its lawyer hired them to dig up dirt on the Pittes for use in the car crash lawsuit. They sat in on the prayer group sessions, listening and tape recording as group members spilled their guts regarding the intimate details of their private lives, in the hopes of getting Bill and/or Leandra on tape saying they had sinful thoughts about blowing donkeys or some such shit.

It’s not uncommon for insurance companies to hire investigators in cases involving allegations of substantial injuries. Generally, the investigator will follow the plaintiff around covertly for a week or two looking to catch him doing something that he testified during a deposition that he could no longer do, and capture the event on film.

This abominable horseshit is a whole ‘nother bundle of laundry. You might expect something this appalling from the other driver’s insurer, which generally owes the injured person no legal obligations that can be enforced beyond a light slap on the wrist from the state insurance commissioner. But this was the injured persons’ own insurance company. Legal duties abound in that circumstance.

The UIM claim eventually settled, but that’s not the end of it. The Pittses recently filed a second lawsuit against Progressive, its attorney from the car crash case and the investigators. The legal issues are interesting as hell, but success will ultimately turn on facts, principally what Progressive and its lawyer knew or should have known about the investigators’ horrific misconduct and the precise scope of the various agency relationships involved.

I’ll undoubtedly have more to say as this case moves forward. For now, though: (1) Here’s hoping that Bill and Leandra hit it big; and (2) fuck Progressive right in the ear.

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