The latest responses from Progressive and Scott Fisher are appended.
Social media users are hammering Progressive after the brother of a woman killed by a drunk driver posted this story on Tumblr: “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court
In the post, Matt Fisher, a self-described “comedian type” in New York, describes how his sister Katie was killed in a traffic accident when another driver ran a red light. The driver’s insurance company paid out his share to Katie’s estate, but because he was underinsured, the difference fell upon Progressive—Katie’s insurer—to make up the rest of the payment.
Long story short: Progressive allegedly refused to pay; the victim’s family filed suit against the driver as a way to make good, and Progressive wound up paying to represent him.
“If you are insured by Progressive, and they owe you money, they will defend your killer in court in order to not pay you your policy,” Fisher wrote, imploring people to never buy insurance from Progressive.
How did the company react to this devastating and heartbreaking story?
It tweeted the same response
, ad nauseam
: “This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain they’ve (cont).” The tweet linked to a TwitLonger post
, which has since been removed.
And as Gawker
pointed out: “It doesn't help that Progressive mascot Flo's smiling face is next to each copy-pasted tweet. Though surely unintentional, it adds insult to injury.”
Twitter users are slamming Progressive, while its Facebook page
is filled with negative comments. Here’s one of those comments: “If the Matt Fisher story is true, which it probably is, your business practices are deplorable. You should be ashamed.” Others said they planned to or already had canceled their policies with Progressive.
As more media outlets pick up the story, the incident has exploded from a human tragedy to a PR nightmare for Progressive. And thus far its response to the crisis is terrible.
In a post on the blog PRBreakfastClub
, PR professional Matt LaCasse
offers this assessment:
“Beyond the stock response, which is a huge middle finger to anyone upset with Progressive in this situation, this is what happens when the PR department does nothing to stand up to the legal department. I get that each company has legal obligations and contracts, and it must adhere to those. When a person is dead, and the only (for lack of a better word) comfort the surviving family members get is settlement money, I am of the opinion that you have a moral obligation to expedite the process (while doing due diligence) to help ease their pain.”
LaCasse added that he doesn’t fault Progressive for doing its job, but “when you go to extreme ends such as this to keep from fulfilling your end of a bargain I’m not sure the world’s best PR would do much good.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Progressive issued this statement
from Chris Wolf, the company's claims general manager:
“I’d like to take this opportunity to explain Progressive’s role in this complex case. First and foremost, our deepest sympathies go out to Kaitlynn Fisher’s family.
“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.
“There was a question as to who was at fault, and a jury decided in the Fisher family’s favor just last week. We respect the verdict and now can continue to work with the Fisher family to reach a resolution.
Matt Fisher responded to the statement in a Tumblr post on Tuesday night
, in which he wrote:
“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. He cross-examined the plaintiff’s witnesses. On direct examination, he questioned all of the defense’s witnesses. He made objections on behalf of the defendant, and he was a party to the argument of all of the objections heard in the case. After all of the witnesses had been called, he stood before the jury and gave a closing argument, in which he argued that my sister was responsible for the accident that killed her, and that the jury should not decide that the defendant was negligent.”
“I am comfortable characterizing this as a legal defense.”
Fisher also posted a document
that appears to corroborate his version of the events.
A spokesperson for Progressive said the company stands by its role in the court case and its “continued focus to resolve this matter with the Fisher family.”
On Wednesday, a Progressive rep reportedly told The Huffington Post
that an attorney for the company was providing counsel for the trial. “However, the rep
added, the attorney represented only Progressive, not the defendant,” HuffPost reported.
“Progressive provided no evidence, he said, but was looking after its
interests in the liability aspect of the case.”
Either way this shakes out, someone is either mistaken or else is not telling the truth, and it appears the answer will emerge soon. If Progressive is obfuscating the truth, it's making an enormous public relations error; if it's Fisher, all brands should pay attention to the kind of damage an erroneous story gone viral can do to a brand.