15th Aug 2012 12:30pm | By Laura Chubb
Insurance company Progressive has denied claims that it defended a dead woman's killer in court to avoid paying out on her policy.
US comedian Matt Fisher's sister, Katie, was killed in a case of negligent driving. The other driver's insurance company settled with Katie's estate, but because the driver was underinsured, the payment was small. Under the policy Katie had with Progressive, however, Progressive had to pay the difference.
It was only because Progressive refused to pay on this point that the case went to court. The family could not sue Progressive for denying compensation, but if they sued the driver responsible, establishing his negligence in court would force Progressive to pay.
Matt Fisher blogged on his Tumblr that in court, the negligent driver was defended by Progressive's legal team.
Since then, Progressive's Claims General Manager Chris Wolf has denied the accusation, stating: "To be very clear, Progressive did not serve as the attorney for the defendant in this case. He was defended by his insurance company, Nationwide."
In the end, the court did find in the Fisher family's favour, and they were awarded US$760,000 by a jury in Baltimore. However, the case would never have gone to court had Progressive paid out in the first place.
There have also been reports that Progressive's in-house attorney, Jeffrey R. Moffet, assisted the defendant's lawyer. Questions were also raised about court documents, dated May 19 2011, that state Progressive was granted an allowance by the Circuit Court for Baltimore "to intervene as a party Defendant".
Wolf did not comment on those points.
Matt Fisher responded to Progressive's denial on his blog, writing: "At the beginning of the trial on Monday, August 6th, an attorney identified himself as Jeffrey R. Moffat and stated that he worked for Progressive Advanced Insurance Company. He then sat next to the defendant. During the trial, both in and out of the courtroom, he conferred with the defendant. He gave an opening statement to the jury, in which he proposed the idea that the defendant should not be found negligent in the case."
The blog went on to claim that Moffat had questioned witnesses in court, "made objections on behalf of the defendant", and gave a closing argument that "argued that my sister was responsible for the accident that killed her, and that the jury should not decide that the defendant was negligent".
He ended the blog by saying he was "comfortable characterizing this as a legal defense".