Despite a great deal of room for improvement, our roads and highways have become significantly safer over the past decade -- just as long as you are not on a motorcycle. The number of annual total vehicle fatalities trended downward from 41,501 fatalities in 1998 to 37,261 fatalities in 2008, an 11% decrease. During this same ten-year period, the country's population increased 11% from 270 million to 304 million. Expressed on a per mile basis, the overall fatality rate decreased from 1.58 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles in 1998 to an historic low of 1.25 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles in 2008. These statistics make the fatality rates for motorcyclists all the more surprising and disturbing. Total annual motorcyclist fatalities increased from 2,294 in 1998 to 5,290 in 2008, a 231% increase. While partially explained by increased population and ridership, the fatality rate on a per-mile basis still went up significantly from 22.3 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles in 1998 to 36.6 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles in 2008, a 64% increase. As also apparent from these statistics, you are 29 times more likely to die per vehicle mile on a motorcycle than in a car or truck. There are varied causes for these adverse motorcycle statistics, including other drivers failing to "see" motorcycles, but the trends and overall results are not good.
As noted in a recent post here, Allstate has instituted a systematic, nation-wide claims handling system designed to drive down the amount of money it pays on personal injury claims. That system came under review in a recent New Mexico case where five individuals sued Allstate for "low balling" their auto personal injury claims. The Court found that Allstate had violated fair claims handling requirements "by not attempting to effectuate . . . prompt, fair and equitable settlement[s]," "compelling each of the plaintiffs to litigate their claims through a jury trial to final judgment," and improperly using the judicial system in "an attempt to delay or extort each of the plaintiffs into accepting less than the full value of their benefits under their policy." The Court found Allstate's conduct constituted "malicious abuse of process." Martinez et. al. v. Allstate, Case No. D-0101-CV-200400963, County of Santa Fe, First Judicial District, oral order dated 11/13/09). This case illustrates that injured individuals often receive Allstate's promised "Good Hands" treatment only if they accept Allstate's "low ball" settlement offers. Otherwise they are subject to -- as an Allstate consultant put it -- the "Boxing Gloves" treatment. Be prepared to put on your boxing gloves when dealing with Allstate!
Over the last decade, Allstate and other insurance companies have adopted highly standardized claims handling systems designed to drive down the amount of money they pay on personal injury claims. These systems generally involve (1) reducing the percentage of injured individuals who hire an attorney by quickly contacting such individuals, building rapport with them, and making early (and low) settlement offers; (2) using main-office-controlled computer programs to provide low "recommended" claim settlement values to their adjustors; and (3) implementing a policy of vigorously litigating with injured individuals who do not accept the insurer's low-ball settlement offers. For example, the Montana Supreme Court last year noted that there was a "high probability" under Allstate's claims handling system that "an unrepresented claimant would receive less than a represented claimant." Jacobsen v. Allstate, 215 P.3d 649, 659 - 60 (Montana 2010). Likewise, the federal district court stated in Wells v. Allstate, 210 F.R.D. 1, 4 (D. D.C. 2002), that "Allstate concedes that claimants represented by counsel receive settlements two to three times greater than those who proceed without counsel, and admits that the goal of [its redesigned claims system] was to reduce the level of attorney representation." If anything, these observations are understated. Internal Allstate documents from that redesign effort state, for example, that "Opportunity [to save Allstate money] is driven by attorney involvement . . . Payments on represented claims is on average five times the size of uprepresented claims . . . Attorney representation can be reduced." Insurance companies do not want to you to consult with an attorney for a reason, and that reason is to save them money.