Insurance Companies: Service or Shenanigans

Last week, the Kansas City Star ran a series of articles it titled Insurance Companies: Service or Shenanigans. According to the first article in the series, the paper spent 11 months examining insurance problems, including an analysis of a national database with more than 600,000 complaints filed from 2003 through 2005. In all, the newspaper analyzed nearly 35 million records. The series is particularly interesting to Texas customers because several of the sources and studies quoted were based in Texas.

The first installment discussed the general complaints the authors found against insurance companies. Summing up the first day’s findings, the paper stated:

Upset insurance customers slug it out daily with billion-dollar companies over thousands of dollars or mere pennies. They filed 246,000 complaints over auto insurance, 133,000 over group health insurance and 70,000 over homeowner’s coverage during the time of the analysis. Most of the time, consumers were right. The analysis showed that state insurance regulators sided with consumers 60 percent of the time.

In addition to discussing many types of complaints, supplementary articles provide lists of those insurance companies with the most (and fewest) complaints.

The second installment discussed unscrupulous agents who do things such as taking premiums but not actually purchasing insurance. We found this installment particularly informative since we have represented several clients over the years (both individuals and businesses) who have been victims of this type of fraud and deceptive trade practices. In our most recent case, the client was a victim of both the insurance agent and the insurance company. The business purchased insurance through an agent. The agent supposedly bought insurance through a small company based in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, the agent did not adequately investigate the company and did not learn, like many others knew, that the company was bogus and not actually providing any insurance.  Imagine the client’s surprise when it attempted to make a claim on the policy and learned that (1) that the company didn’t really exist; but (2) that many state insurance bodies around the country had been investigating the person for quite some time and that it’s agent didn’t take the time to find this out.

In conjunction with this installment were several ancillary articles discussing various types of insurance fraud by consumers that harm all of us, particularly those who are presenting legitimate claims for payment.

Finally, the third installment discusses the lack of oversight of the insurance industry. On the federal level, insurance companies are exempt from anti-trust regulation. This means that insurance companies are allowed to share data between one another relating to prices so that the companies can engage in price-fixing. And what little other regulation there is, is largely ineffective. This installment began:

U.S. insurance companies boast assets of $5.6 trillion. They benefit from virtually no federal oversight. And the state officials who do regulate insurance companies often are drawn from the industry they police. That’s how insurance regulation works in America. But too often it may not be working for you.

Because all of us are consumers of some type of insurance, I hope that everyone would take time to at least scan the articles so that none of us are the victims that are being discussed next time.  And if you are in Texas and are a victim of insurance fraud, please feel free to call us.

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Sweatshop on Wheels

Trucking accidents are a concern for all drivers, but two new articles in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune really bring those dangers to light.  Each article highlights the dangers caused by truckers’ long work hours, though they both have different views on the cause of the long work hours.

The Tribune article lays blame at the deregulation of the trucking industry.  With deregulation, the market became flooded with new companies and drivers. For example, figures from the American Trucking Association show that between 1980 and 2005, the number of interstate trucking companies soared from 20,000 to 564,000. The result was lower working conditions for drivers, and increased pressure to work longer hours to make ends meet, turning the industry into a “sweatshop on wheels,” according to one insider.

The Times points out that the problem has become worse with the Bush Administration. Numerous officials in the administration are former members of the trucking industry, and they have taken steps to relax regulations on the number of hours truckers could drive. The administration has also repeatedly turned down requests for additional training requirements and resisted calls for electronic monitoring to stop the admittedly widespread problem of falsified driver’s log books.

This deregulation and lack of oversight has obvious effects on public safety, but also on truckers themselves. John Siebert, an official with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, was glancing through their members obituaries and noticed that the average age at death was 55. Mr. Siebert also noted that his drivers had an alarmingly high suicide rate.

While these are concerns for drivers all over the country, those of us in Texas and Austin, in particular, should take notice. Texas is one of the most heavily traveled states, and Interstate 35, running through the heart of Austin, is one of the most heavily traveled roads in the country.

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The Medical Malpractice Crises: Was the sky really falling?

Dallas attorney John Browning, who represents doctors and hospitals in medical malpractice cases, wrote an insightful opinion piece in his local paper earlier this week.  His article, Is The Sky Really Falling?, addresses the alleged medical malpractice crises.

Mr. Browning’s piece includes this conclusion:

If President Bush had listened to Mrs. Thornton’s tragic tale, he would realize that the system is neither broken nor overburdened by frivolous lawsuits; that medical negligence occurs more often than we’d care to admit; and that only a relatively small percentage of cases go all the way to trial and result in a plaintiff’s verdict. I’d also like to think there are ways to address concerns over medical malpractice other than restricting an individual’s right to go to court; such as requiring doctors and hospitals to report errors to a national, federally-supervised database (there is already a National Practition-ers Data Bank that tracks settlements, judgments, and disciplinary actions).

Saying that the sky is falling doesn’t give a complete picture of the medical malpractice issue, and it doesn’t address the most important aspect of all – the safety of patients.

Click here to learn more about medical malpractice claims and our Austin personal injury lawyers.

To contact Austin Personal Injury Lawyer, Austin Personal Attorney, Austin Accident Lawyer, Austin Injury Lawyer Perlmutter & Schuelke, PLLC or to learn more about Austin Personal Injury visit

Schuelke Law maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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