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Auto Insurance Claims/how to fight insurance rate increase after accident


My wife and I have had a good driver discount with 21st Century Auto Insurance for about 25 years. We never had any accidents until about six months ago, when my wife accidentally scraped the side of her car on a curved driveway wall, and it was her fault. The company covered the repair costs (about $4000). The company has now dropped the good driver discount and has raised our annual premium to $2800 from the prior annual premium of about $1700. We had expected a rate increase because of the accident, but not such a steep one. Is this legal? Do we have any recourse of action, such as the Insurance Commissioner? Being good customers for 25 years, we had hoped there would be some forgiveness but it almost seems like they want us to pay for the repairs via the rate increase. Please advise us if there is any way we can get back to our original premium, or close to it. Also, any suggestion (if you can) on an alternative company would be appreciated. Thanks.

Dear David,

[Sidebar: please detour around the following FIVE paragraphs and start reading with the SIXTH paragraph, which starts with these words: “However, just in case . . . “  My reason for asking this is the first five paragraphs are totally about housekeeping on this website and whether or not they sent you my earlier message declining your question.  Nobody cares about that—but I must leave it in to make sense of the trail of your experience here at  So just put it off until you have gone through all that I have given to you below.  OK?  Then let’s scroll down to get started with “However, just in case . . . “]

This website sent me an email asking me to respond, but I already sent you off to seek help from an insurance adjuster, so their email is confusing.  Did you see where I declined to answer your question and I explained to you why an insurance adjuster might be a better choice to help?  

I apologize on behalf of this website if you have not already received my invitation to ask your question of one of the insurance adjusters who volunteer here.  I wonder about that, however, since—as I mentioned—this morning I received a reminder email from this website asking me to answer this question.  Please take no offense, David, but as soon as I saw your question a couple of days ago, I sent you off to ask an insurance adjuster on this website.  So since I had already done that, it is some kind of error in their software that this question has still shown up for me, and you have no answer to date.

May I please explain why I did that, and then offer you an opportunity to ask me any question about insurance claims—or even how to read your policy?  This would be in exchange for the failure of this site to direct your question elsewhere.

Here is what happened.  I had checked the box to explain why I cannot answer your question, which then gives you the right to ask it of another expert on this site.  I then explained that I am a personal injury trial attorney, so we deal in lawsuits or making insurance claims based upon bodily injuries.  We are not at all involved with purchasing or marketing insurance, or in making complaints to state insurance commissioners about a rate increase.  Hence, my suggestion to you was for you to see if an insurance adjuster might have some answer for you.  

I trust that you have received my response and that you have already asked an insurance adjuster on this site, and that the email from this morning reminding me to answer your question was in error.  

However, just in case you have not yet had the opportunity yet to ask an insurance adjuster on this site, may I please offer you what little I do know about your kind of issue?  I will confess that while this is NOT my area of expertise, I HAVE had success in the one and only time I got involved and using the threat of a complaint to the state insurance commissioner, I did get a rate increase TOTALLY REVERSED for my client.  

What I propose to do is to give you a FULL hour of my time, David—going over what I do know about fighting a rate increase, and making specific defenses to your particular rate increase that you can use, then moving on to a review of your company, and finally giving you two pages chock full of tips on how to buy auto insurance from our help online auto www.SettlementCentral.Com accident claims settlements. OK?  Here we go then!

The first thing we want to do is to eliminate the three defenses I am aware of that an insured can use to fight a rate increase following an accident.

The first place to start is with your state insurance commissioner.  At our insurance claims teaching website www.SettlementCentral.Com insurance claims help online, we have a link to a map where you can pull up your insurance commissioner contact data.  Go to the third link from the top:

Most state insurance commissioners do have a set of rules and regulations that govern how and why a company may increase its rates following an accident.  I did not see the name of your state in your question, but so far as I know, these three rules are in force in most all states:

#1. The insured must have been involved in an auto accident.  This may seem obvious, but some companies tried to raise rates for comprehensive claims not involving an auto accident.

#2. The insured must have been at fault—and it seems there is no issue to dispute this point since you concede that your wife is at fault.

#3. The claim paid out must exceed a threshold amount.  Usually this is well below the $4,000 paid out in your case.  For example, if the state insurance commissioner has set a threshold of $1,000, then a company may NOT raise rates if it only had to pay out $999 on a claim, even if the insured was at fault.

So, from what I know these three defenses would offer no opportunity for you to contest the rate increase.  

But there is one additional part: make sure that the rate increase is solely for your wife.  You should not lose your status as a safe driver, entitled to a discount.  Now they may contend that your marital community is “one” for insurance purposes, but that is not so—you did not become a bad driver just because your wife hit a wall.  Hence, I would ask the insurance commissioner about that.

Now these next two might take some expert help, from an engineer or an attorney—but at $1,100 per year rate increase, it might be well worth spending the money to fight.  You have two paths.  First is to see what recourse you have to appeal under your policy; look for a section on disputes or “if you and we disagree”.  They will identify a path to seek recourse from their decision.   The second path is to get an attorney to figure a way to litigate when the philosophy of the insurance commissioners rules and regulations are trammeled by the actions of your company.  In other words, your attorney will plead that the company’s actions are in contravention of the purpose of the regulations governing rate increases.

One example of this kind of pleading would be to contest the insurance company’s conclusion  that this event—running into a wall—was an “auto accident” that should result in a rate increase.  There would be two prongs to this argument: (a) there was no other auto involved; and (b) the roadway at the scene is unusual, so that alone means that failure to navigate it is not any indication that your wife is likely to cause an accident in the future.  

The attorney would contend that the regulations are designed to protect against rate increases where the insured’s actions are not indicative of—or probative of—a risk of future accidents.  

In essence, you would be contending that a rate increase is NOT ALLOWED just to recover costs the company was required to pay.  Your point is that rate increases are a means to protect the company against the INCREASED RISK of having to pay in the future.  To the contrary point: insurance companies will contend that if one is at fault in an accident, that fact alone is sufficient to justify a rate increase.  

In essence, your position would be that since no other car was in the area and the accident was really caused by an unusually sharp curve in the roadway, this accident would NOT be relevant to predicting future losses from your wife’s driving.  Am I making any sense with this so far, David?

I would start with the contention that this was a steeply curved driveway that she was not familiar with.  Get the degree of curve of that driveway wall and I will bet you that it exceeds the allowable curve for a roadway.  OR—find out whether or not the wall is offset from the roadway the same amount as is required for public roadways.  My bet is that this driveway wall FAILS on this count as well.  

Now, it is true you may have to hire an expert for this, but I believe the increase they hit you with, multiplied by a number of years, will demonstrate to you the benefit of spending some money to fight it.

If you can show the standards in your state for roadway construction, and then get a guesstimate of the degree of curve of that driveway, I will bet the latter exceeds the former.  So this ought to give you a leg up to seek a hearing or make an appeal under your policy provisions.

And make sure to photograph and measure the offset from the driveway to the wall, and my bet is that this distance is NOT in conformance with standards for roadway construction in your state.  How can the insurance company contend that it is more likely that your wife will be a risk to cause a loss in the future if the wall she hit was too close to the roadway?  It is the state standard that she is used to and drives all the time—so they cannot say that incident has any probative value toward predicting her future losses.

Insurance Commissioner—Complaint Form
Going back for a second to the insurance commissioner’s office, don’t expect too much if you live in a “red state”, where the public officials at most levels are in bed with the insurance industry.  If you look at a number of the websites of insurance commissioners, it soon becomes apparent that there is a HUGE difference in their attitudes and in their philosophies.  Some are great repositories of information for the consumer and readily provide links to helpful pages—in these sites you will find ways to contact staff for help.  Others have very little in the way of help for the consumer, and you will look long and hard to find any way to contact their staffs for help.

Hopefully you and your wife have voted to elect officials who favor the consumer, not the insurance industry.  That would be indicative of living in a “blue state”, where the voice of trial attorneys carries some weight with elected officials.

I have two comments about the insurance commissioner’s office.  First is regarding the staff and the second is how to use their complaint form.

Work diligently to get a person at your insurance commissioner’s office who is willing to work with you—NOT some snotty staffer who just wants to pass you off.  Take the time to try to become a bit acquainted—put yourself in her shoes and see how obnoxious many callers might be to her in the work day and empathize with her over this.  Try to become—or I should say, to appear to be—someone who they want to help.  I do not imply that you and your wife are not people deserving of help—instead the point is we want the staffer to believe you have been wronged and thus are deserving of her help.  

As to the insurance commissioner’s complaint form.
This is a tricky topic, but one where I have evolved a great solution.  I print out the form and I fill out the form.  If the space is not long enough, I always attach an exhibit or appenidix and label it with each topic or paragraph number from the complaint form.

My point being: do NOT SIMPLY make a narrative complaint—USE THE FORM!

Here is why and here is HOW to use the form.
I never ever file the form with the insurance commissioner—unless and until I reach an impasse.  

My only use of the PROPERLY completed and signed and dated form is to make it appear as a REAL THREAT of an official filing.  So I am using this form as a tool to extract concessions from the insurance company.  NO insurance adjuster—and certainly NO insurance supervisor—EVER wants to have to deal with an insurance commissioner complaint.  

First off, there is the extra time involved.  It is a real hassle to go over the file and to justify what the adjuster did every step of the way.

But worse might be the internal consequences within the company.  Insureres keep track of stuff like this.  It is a big deal.  The supervisor keeps tabs on the adjuster—so she is well aware if an insurance commissioner complaint is filed.   But that supervisor has her own supervisor who keeps track of any insurance commissioner complaints filed in her division.  And all of those divisions constitute a department within the company, and—(do you see this coming by now?) of course insurance commissioner complaints are noted by department.  

Do you want to be noted as a supervisor whose division has received a number of insurance commissioner complaints?  NO!!  

Hence, what I do is to write my demand letter and complete the insurance commissioner’s complaint form properly, getting A COPY signed and dated (leaving the date on the original blank).  Then I send my demand letter to the supervisor and I tell her—RESPECTFULLY, of course—that I would like the result per my demand letter, and if it is not forthcoming (by a specified time—give them a generous allotment of time to work with you), then I WILL forthwith lodge the enclosed complaint with the Insurance Commissioner.  

To me, this is A LOT more effective than simply filing the complaint, or in threatening to file a complaint, but providing no completed form. If you do the former, you have already put the supervisor and the company at battle stations and they get all defensive.  If you do the latter, it is clear you have not prepared the file for a complaint, which tells the supervisor that your threat is a hollow one.  Got it?

Now, on to your question about your company and any recommendations.
As for your company, I have no first-hand experience since I have not had a case with them.  But I would shop around via the online reviews.  Have either you or someone in your family had any military service?  If so, see if you qualify for USAA.  That is reputedly a good company—one I have had since entering the Navy back in 1967.  

Ha!!  LOL—you have been paying for near-criminal abusive robbery of your company by its executives.  I bet you did not know that—of course why would you—we never do that kind of research on an auto insurer.  

Does exemplary leadership translate into great customer service?
Most of us would say “Yes” to that question.  But is the opposite true: does widespread executive dishonesty—or abusive, almost criminal, behavior ever have any causal connection to customer service?

When I started to answer your question on what kind of reviews 21st Century had, the first and biggest links went to the top, not the bottom of your company.  The first links led to news that for many years you have been paying a tiny part of the abusive tens of millions of dollars paid out to your president and cronies at the top.  And for what?  This was when your company was owned by AIG.  They robbed you—and got stock bonuses and kickbacks from other companies that were sweetheart deals that AIG did not know about.  Tens of millions of dollars!

This is NOT worth a lot of time right now, David—so I will put it as an appendix in case you do want further information.  Now, on to the reviews.

There ought to be some good reviews, but this is the first one that popped up.

Reviews of other companies (Consumer Reports wants a subscription to see its reviews).
GEICO, Nationwide, Travelers are top three here
“[We compared the 12 largest auto insurance companies that provide coverage for individuals in most areas of the U.S. Even though USAA is one of the largest companies, it was excluded since its plans are only available to those with military connections. AARP was also excluded because its plans are provided by The Hartford Financial Services Group, which we have reviewed separately.]”

State Farm, Nationwide, and Progressive are top three here:

J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Rankings
1.The Hartford
2.Liberty Mutual
3.American Family

Amica Mutual, GEICO, and USAA are top three here:

If you want any tips on how to buy insurance, here is a guide we published a couple of long pages chock full of tips on buying auto insurance.  And some tips on how to understand auto

OK, David, with the research and all, this has gone way over that one hour of my time.  But since yours appears to be a vexing problem—and one that will cost dearly over many years, I did want to share all I could in the hopes of giving you something to use.

I was going to mark myself off for vacation today, but I think I will wait for a couple of days just in case you have any questions you want to ask me.  After that I will be off for a couple of months.

I trust that my additional time here has been of value to you.  And therefore I respectfully request that you locate the feedback forum on this website and leave some feedback for me.  This is a good way to let future browsers know which experts will go to bat for them with a full effort response.

Best wishes to you and your wife,

Dr. Settlement, J.D. (Juris Doctor)


Appendix: top brass of your company & abusive compensation

Does dishonesty at the top ever mean higher rates or marginal service at the bottom?  OR—stated in a reverse way: if the top leadership it exemplary, we almost always will find excellent customer service—e.g. Nordstrom’s Costco, Amazon, etc.

Take it or leave it—here is the history of your company when it was part of AIG not too long ago.  Some have disgust at what the top brass did.  But others think it is just “The American Way.”

Of course many people your age (judging by your having been with them 25 years) watch Fox so-called “news”, and thus are so propagandized that they will believe anything—in which case AIG top brass were defended there.  “It is free enterprise, so why do we want to put a limit on what those at the top can earn?”

But these guys took out a great many tens of millions of dollars in alleged “compensation”—and for what?  it is not just you insureds who suffered with rates and service; we taxpayers had to bail out your company.  I will admit that back then I have been woefully ignorant about how the top brass literally robbed the company and expected—no, DEMANDED—that we taxpayers were required to bail them out (the old “too big to fail” was used).

Wiki had this on the 21st Century/AIG fiasco:
“On March 17, 2009, AIG announced that they were paying $165 million in executive bonuses, according to news reports. Total bonuses for the financial unit could reach $450 million and bonuses for the entire company could reach $1.2 billion.  President Barack Obama, who voted for the AIG bailout as a Senator responded to the planned payments by saying "It's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?" and "In the last six months, AIG has received substantial sums from the U.S. Treasury. I’ve asked Secretary Timothy Geithner to use that leverage and pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.”

And the scum ought to have gone to jail on NY state charges alone, instead of being defended by ‘da boys over at Fox so-called “news”: this is actual criminal activity that they did:

It is too hard to keep track of this stuff if we are just mere purchasers of auto insurance.  Who has the time?  And what should we do about it in any event?  I guess we ought to expect to see the result of such abuses in our rate increases and marginal customer service, but this all happened long before your wife’s accident—moreover your company has now been traded to another mother company.  

There is just something about dishonesty at the top filtering down to infect customer service.  So I suppose that is the only relevance of considering the dishonesty of the top brass.  If they are such cheaters at the top, how can we expect honest customer service at the bottom?  I am not sure there is logical proof of such a connection, except we CAN see how the reverse is true: if the top leadership it exemplary, we almost always will find excellent customer service. I am thinking of Nordstrom’s Costco, Amazon, and probably you could name many more.  

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Doctor Settlement


27 years of front line plaintiff`s trial lawyer experience in PERSONAL INJURY INSURANCE CLAIMS. Along with other attorneys and insurance adjusters, we have created a website to help injured people settle their own personal injury claims. With the help from feedback from hundreds of satisfied members, has become THE AUTHORITY for Internet personal injury insurance claim settlements. I am humbled and honored if people can benefit from my experience and current volunteer work in helping injured people. I hope I can explain things in a manner that is useful for the questioner. If not, do not hesitate to e-mail me and I will take a second shot at it! Best Wishes for your physical and financial recovery.


Life Experience: 27 years of front line plaintiff's trial lawyer experience

American Trial Lawyers Association
Washington State Trial Lawyers Association

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Statute of Limitations
Vehicle Accident
Demand Letters
Policy Limits

Education/Credentials: J.D. (Juris Doctor) 1977

Awards and Honors: I am humbled and honored everytime I am selected to help injured people. And when people give feedback that they have benefited from my experience and current volunteer efforts, then that is a double honor and award for me.

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