March 27, 2000
BOTHELL--Representatives of Allstate Insurance Company have asked the Weekly to clarify allegations from the March 20 edition. Allstate's Regional Counsel Elizabeth Moceri and Janice Waibel, of Corporate Relations, protested that allegations reported from information provided by the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association (WSTLA), a private organization of attorneys who represent plaintiffs, were not clearly attributed.
The judgment by King County Superior Court Judge Phillip Hubbard did not find Allstate guilty of "consumer fraud" as the headline read, said Moceri.
"No judge has ever ruled that Allstate 'illegally coerced accident victims to settle claims for far less than just compensation,'" said Waibel. Those allegations came from a press release issued by WSTLA. Moceri added that Hubbard's ruling applied to one particular case, that of Des Moines resident Janet Jones, and made no mention of any other accident victims who might be involved in litigation with Allstate. The Jones case is also still in litigation, Moceri pointed out.
"While the 'Jones vs. Allstate' case involved a tragic and unfortunate accident that resulted in serious injury to Mrs. Jones, Allstate quickly paid the maximum amount available under the policy of $25,000," said Waibel. "Allstate is appealing (Hubbard's) ruling based on errors in the legal and factual analysis of the case. Both Mrs. Jones and her husband testified, under oath, that they were aware that Allstate's adjuster was not acting as an attorney, and was not providing them legal advice. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Jones consulted two attorneys prior to accepting Allstate's payment."
"The Joneses cashed our settlement check and put it into an interest-bearing account for seven months," said Moceri. "Then they consulted a third attorney and attempted to return the money to us. They never returned the release of liability form we sent them, but their cashing the check does have legal implications.
"You have to understand that this is all about money. Plaintiff attorneys have an economic interest in encouraging claimants to retain a lawyer in every case. Our business is based on people liking us. We depend on people telling other people that they had a good experience with Allstate.
"Ruling against us for being nice to the Joneses is like criticizing Nordstrom's for their return policy. Our claim representative never visited Mrs. Jones in the hospital. She did call as soon as she heard about the accident and expressed her care and concern over the phone."
"Our research found that the claim process frequently confuses claimants," said Waibel. "Focus groups conducted by Allstate in 1994 with accident victims revealed that many people believed they were required to hire an attorney, even when minor injuries were involved in an auto accident. Regardless of whether a case is settled with or without an attorney, Allstate seeks to pay the correct and fair amount as quickly as possible."
Other published statements protested by Allstate include: "Allstate has not been contacted by the State Insurance Commissioner's office" to investigate them; Allstate has not forced 60 percent of its cases to trial; there was no finding of any "illegal scheme of deception" by the court.