Danny Westneat: Insurer does "right thing" — finally
Seattle Times staff columnist
Farmers Insurance finally agreed yesterday to pay Ethel Adams, the woman who was nearly killed in a road-rage wreck last spring.
To her credit, Adams, who is in a wheelchair, was gracious and genuinely thrilled on hearing the news. "I'm just glad they're doing the right thing," she said.
I'm not going to be so generous. And neither, it seems, are some Farmers employees who are furious their company has turned itself into exhibit A for why people don't trust the insurance industry.
No doubt it is a happy event that Farmers now says it will honor its policies toward Adams. But I don't agree Farmers "did the right thing." More like they were left no choice but to stop doing the wrong thing.
Adams, 60, was hospitalized last March when she got caught in a wreck caused by a crazed man named Michael Testa, who was trying to run his girlfriend's truck off the road.
Farmers decided the policies covering Adams didn't apply to anything Testa did because he caused the five-car pileup on purpose. Essentially Farmers said it was not an accident, even for Adams, who was just passing by.
After being threatened with a lawsuit by the state insurance commissioner — as well as national television exposure by both "Good Morning America" and Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor," which were planning stories — Farmers wisely backed down yesterday.
In a statement, Farmers said it had always been "doing everything we can to find coverage for Ethel Adams" and that it "believed all along" that Adams deserved payment for her injuries.
The amount of the coverage will be determined later. The insurance policies allow a maximum of $2 million.
Rather than doing something honorable, such as admitting it screwed up, Farmers instead took the opportunity to heap praise on its entire operation.
"Farmers has been diligent in the actions it has taken to respond to this claim since the beginning, including hiring our own private investigator, attempting to communicate with Ethel Adams' attorney, staying in close contact with the authorities, and clearly explaining our position to the Department of Insurance and the news media," the statement said.
Some Farmers employees tell a different story. Eight local Farmers agents and administrators called or wrote me, all expressing disgust at the company's handling of the case. Some said they are typically proud of their work and were feeling demoralized.
It doesn't seem like Farmers gets it, even after all this. Maybe the company will right itself, but in the meantime we ought to revise state insurance laws to make sure that no company can punish an innocent victim.
One Farmers administrator said her office was "getting a ton of cancellations." For all the fulminating by people like me and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, it was that uprising of the people that truly helped Ethel Adams.
Yesterday, she asked me to say thanks to all of you who let Farmers know they were off-base on this one — and in so doing, also let a crippled woman suffering from depression know that she still matters in the world.
"I'm so overwhelmed that people actually care and are willing to help a perfect stranger — it's just amazing," Adams said. "Who would have thought that could still happen in this day and age?"
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or email@example.com.
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