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Nationwide Insurance

Laptop - InsuranceOriginally started as the Ohio Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, this insurance giant eventually changed its name to “Nationwide” Insurance once it had expanded coast-to-coast.  

As the word “mutual” in its name suggests, the company is a form of insurance operation in which ownership rests with the member policyholders rather than with stockholders, typical for an incorporated stock company.

The company is well-known for its decades-old “. . . is on your side” jingle that finishes most of its television ads.  It also invests in sports sponsorships, including professional golf and auto racing.  Nationwide car insurance also sponsors sports and public venues in Columbus, Ohio, where it is headquartered and owns its own corporate skyscraper.

Who is Nationwide Insurance?

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners reported that Nationwide Insurance took in the eighth largest amount of automobile insurance policy premiums in the United States in 2018, with about $6.7 billion received.   This is only about one-seventh of the company’s total revenues because, in addition to auto insurance, it provides a variety of other insurance and financial services through dozens of different subsidiary companies.

Auto insurance was its first service, however, when it was formed by a group of farmers to provide their membership with better auto insurance rates in the 1920s.  It took the company about 40 years to become “Nationwide” as it expanded to many other states and offered many different services.  It has about 34,000 employees between its Ohio headquarters and several regional offices in the U.S.

Nationwide car insurance was one of the first auto insurers to offer smartphone applications for its policyholders to use in reporting and managing their claims.

What Are Some Claims Practices of Nationwide Insurance?

Many automobile insurance companies will seek to save money on automobile property damage claims by electing to repair (rather than replace) newer vehicles that still maintain most of their original sales value.  If totaling a car costs the insurance company $25,000, but $15,000 in repairs can get it (mostly) back in shape, there is a clear incentive to repair rather than total the vehicle.  In some states, claimants have the option of also seeking compensation for the “diminished value” of their vehicles, which is the difference between the pre-accident sales value and the post-repair sales value of the automobile.  In other states, claimants may not have this option, and they are left to either accept the repairs that the insurance company is willing to pay for or continue to argue – perhaps in court – that the vehicle should be repaired instead.

In Pennsylvania, a dispute between a Nationwide policyholder and the company over this “repair or total” choice for their damaged vehicle eventually resulted in bad faith litigation that took almost 20 years to resolve.  (Berg v. Nationwide Insurance Company.)  Nationwide insisted on repairing the vehicle at a cost that was then a little more than half the value of the near-new vehicle. However, their policyholders insisted the car “was never the same” after the repairs were performed on this vehicle they had wanted to be totaled.  Litigation on this bad faith lawsuit resulted in an award that included over $18 million in punitive damages, although this was later reduced.

Nationwide Insurance is one of many major auto insurers that use the Colossus claims software (and similar, related applications) for evaluation of personal injury claims.  In Colossus, the valuing of a personal injury is largely removed from the hands of the individual insurance adjuster and instead entrusted to a computer that scores numerous different factors – injuries, medical bills, various symptoms, etc. -- to come up with a settlement value range that the adjuster is instructed to follow in negotiations.  These claims software packages save insurance companies quite a bit of money. First, they allow individual adjusters to handle much larger caseloads by removing the claim evaluation work from their hands. Second, they allow insurance companies to simply “tweak” the values of different injuries by assigning different numbers to them at wish.  The entire process tends to do a very bad job of properly evaluating individual claims since personal injury claimants are unique people with unique circumstances who suffer in unique ways from the injuries they have sustained.

Nationwide was also one of several insurance companies who were the subject of a multi-state investigation earlier this decade into their practices in handling life insurance claims.  The investigators concluded that these companies as a whole had failed to pay more than $1 billion in life insurance claims – for policyholders the companies knew had died – simply because policy beneficiaries had not known to file claims.  Nationwide alone agreed to pay more than $7 million to resolve this.

Autoaccident.com Cases, Settlements & Verdicts Against Nationwide Insurance

A case was resolved recently for a client of ours involving a cow insured by Nationwide Insurance – or, more specifically, a rancher who was insured by Nationwide whose poorly-maintained fencing allowed one of his livestock to wander onto a nearby state highway.  Our unfortunate client was commuting to work on that highway and discovered that a black cow on an unlit rural highway in the middle of the night is very, very hard to see.  In addition to that, a cow is a big animal, and when a passenger car hits one at highway speeds, it causes very substantial damage to both animal and vehicle.

The physical evidence indicated that our client might have started to swerve just before impact – due to his serious head injuries, he had no recollection of the incident afterward.  His vehicle veered sharply at the impact, off the two-lane highway and into a cattle pond where it came to rest, half-submerged.  Fortunately, a passing highway patrol officer noticed our client’s vehicle lights in the pond and stopped to investigate.

Fast Investigation Key to Preserving Evidence

Our office was contacted by family members of the man, who was still in the hospital, having been airlifted there due to severe facial and skull fractures.  Since he could remember little of what happened, our only initial piece of information was a “preliminary” traffic collision report prepared by the highway patrol officer.  This established the basics of what the officer found – the location of our client and his vehicle, the location of the (deceased) cow, and skid marks that showed approximately where the impact occurred.

From past experience with automobile versus livestock collision cases, we knew that a prompt investigation was necessary to determine the physical conditions at the scene.  These cases often turn on whether or not the livestock’s owner took the reasonable precaution to keep fencings, gates, etc., in good condition to properly restrict their livestock from wandering off.  Once this type of incident occurs, it’s all too easy for the livestock owner to simply go out and patch up any defects on his property that may have led to the animals being able to wander.

As soon as we determined the approximate location of the incident, we retained an experienced private investigator whose services we have successfully used on other similar cases in the past.  He immediately drove out to the accident scene and starting thoroughly documenting what he found with photographs, video recordings, and extensive measurements and notes.  He then contacted property owners near the accident location and was able to get the cow’s owner to confirm ownership of the animal involved.  Having confirmed from which property the animal had wandered, our investigator was then able to walk the entire fenced perimeter of that property – more than a mile in total – taking photographs the entire way that documented the condition of the fencing and gates.

The day after receiving our investigator’s initial findings, we also engaged the services of a drone videographer, who was able to provide overhead video of the same property perimeter, as well as activities on-site.

A Good Recovery and Good Results

Our client was a fit, young man, and his good condition before the accident helped pay off with a relatively fast and complete recovery.  His injuries were certainly substantial with fractures to his skull and bones in his face, but he was substantially recovered within a few months after the incident.

Resolving the claim for the fair value was a bit more challenging, however.  Nationwide rejected our initial settlement demand, and it became necessary to litigate the case.  Although Nationwide argued the value of our client’s damages – his injuries, medical expenses, pain and suffering, etc. -- their primary argument was over liability.

In traffic incidents where vehicles hit wandering livestock, there are several legal checkboxes that need to be marked off to establish liability.  First is the nature of the livestock laws in the particular state or county where the incident occurred – some “free-range” areas place considerably less responsibility on livestock owners for restraining their animals.  Beyond that, actual evidence of negligence is usually necessary.

In this case, we were able to use the extensive investigative evidence – photographs and videography of the property – that showed multiple gaps and other defects in the fencing and gates that could easily allow an animal to wander.  Combined with a report we received from one of the top livestock fencing experts in the country (whom we had also promptly retained), this investigative material was key in achieving a $600,000 settlement for our client.

An experienced attorney will know the specific investigative and legal steps that need to be promptly addressed to achieve fair personal injury settlements for clients from Nationwide Insurance – especially in unusual circumstances like these livestock impact cases.

For more information on insurance companies, their claim tactics, and how an experienced personal injury attorney should deal with them, see:

Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 12.10.20]

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM

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