LOS ANGELES (CN) - Policyholders claim an insurer conspires with an attorney to do "Inquisition-style" investigations to deny claims, targeting vulnerable clients, particularly minorities who do not speak English as a first language.
Jeffrey Blackman and three others sued Progressive Choice Insurance Co. and Teresa Starinieri, an attorney with offices in Carlsbad and Folsom, in Superior Court.
Blackman claims Progressive "delays and denies valid automobile and motorcycle theft and vandalism claims as a calculated component of its corporate culture."
"Progressive's institutional bad faith involves a flagrant, arrogant and unlawful abuse of the claims-handling process," the complaint states. "Progressive targets vulnerable claimants, especially those of minority ethnicities who do not speak English as a first language, for protracted, Inquisition-style claims investigations that invariably end in unwarranted denial. Progressive knows from experience that these claimants generally do not possess the wherewithal or resources to enforce their rights, and so Progressive takes advantage of them to bolster its bottom line.
"In every case, Progressive conspires with defendant Teresa M. Starinieri (Starinieri), an independent attorney who subsists by investigating so-called suspicious insurance claims for budget insurance companies. Progressive retains Starinieri to find alleged inconsistencies in claims and to recommend denials based on those inconsistencies, which generally are immaterial and irrelevant to the claim itself.
"Every plaintiff in this action endured an improper adversarial claim investigation conducted by Progressive and Starinieri. Every plaintiff in this action cooperated meekly for months with seemingly endless requests for documents, records, recorded statements and examinations under oath. Every plaintiff in this action ultimately saw his or her claim wrongfully denied by Progressive based on the recommendation of Starinieri."
According to the 24-page complaint: "Progressive markets itself as providing affordable, reliable car insurance for working class people. The company devotes a substantial amount of its budget to advertising aggressively in the print and broadcast media.
"Once it lands a customer and sells a policy, one of the first pieces of paper Progressive issues to its new policyholder is entitled New Policy Information. It reads as follows:
"What you should expect from an insurance company
"When you need help, we will respond quickly and provide a clear explanation of your coverage, rates and repair options. We respect your privacy and ... [w]e appreciate your trust.
"Yet once a claim comes in, Progressive flouts its promised respect for privacy and delves into every corner of the claimant's life in order to concoct reasons not to pay."
Blackman says the purpose of Progressive's claims investigations are not "to valuate a claim and pay it." He says, "The investigation's primary objective is to show that the theft involved an 'intentional act' - in other words, the complicity of the claimant."
The complaint continues: "Progressive does not inform the claimant that the company has targeted him or her as a criminal culprit. Instead, the claim examiner or special investigator assigned to the claim calls the claimant unannounced and requests a recorded statement, ostensibly to better 'resolve' the claim. This is a false pretense. The goal of the interview is to begin compiling bits and pieces of statements that can be used later to deny the claim based on alleged inconsistencies.
"Once the decision has been made to fully pursue an 'intentional act' claim denial,
Progressive retains Starinieri.