Car insurance system penalizes the victims

The Baltimore Sun

Charlie Lusco, you are not alone. And boy, oh boy, is that really depressing.

Several incensed readers wrote of their own alarming stories about bad drivers who don't play by the insurance rules and bad insurers who let them get away with it, after I shared Lusco's infuriating ordeal in this column last week.

To recap, Lusco and his wife were rear-ended by an 18-year- old driver in December. Lusco immediately reported the accident to his insurance company, Geico, but the young driver did not inform his own insurer. That offense of omission legally allowed the young man's insurer to say it could not be held financially responsible for an accident it wasn't aware of, which in turn allowed Geico to say that it couldn't get reimbursed on the Lusco claim.

The end result? Geico paid most of the cost to have the Lusco minivan fixed, but Lusco was out $250 for what he paid on the deductible for an accident that wasn't his fault.

We learned a couple of things from Lusco's saga: 1. It takes honest people to make insurance work properly, and 2. A system based on the integrity of its members can sometimes fail you.

We learned a third thing this week from readers: These failures happen more often than we'd think.

"We had a similar episode a couple of years ago," Phil Kolocotronis of Columbia wrote in an e-mail.

"My wife was driving into a subdivision when a commercial truck backed up into her. ... Bottom line is that the other driver's company [not his insurance company] would not pay back our deductible of $250. ... Our insurance company wound up sending it to a collection agency, and only then did that company pay up," Kolocotronis wrote.

Wayne Wolff of York, Pa., is still trying to get to the driver who struck his car four years ago.

"I have gotten a judgment against him and have made numerous appearances in court, at the MVA and the Baltimore City police station relating to this accident," Wolff said. "I have had his wages garnished at two different jobs and spent countless hours tracking him down as he moves from address to address and job to job.

"Is it worth it?" Wolff said. "Probably not. Right now I am receiving $50 a week until he quits his current job and disappears again. But I am determined to make his life miserable as he has made mine. This punk ended up involving five cars in an accident that night causing untold pain and suffering to those affected, not to mention the financial loss by the insurers."

Tim Twigg of Mechanicsville said he was rear-ended by a driver in Waldorf who pulled the same stunt as the young driver in the Lusco case. The at-fault driver in Twigg's case refused to respond to any letters, dodged correspondence from her own insurer, hid from insurance agents at home and at work, and disconnected her phone service when Twigg called to inquire about payment.

"I found her car there, the one that rear-ended me, and took a picture of the [vehicle identification number] in the parking lot" at her place of work, Twigg said. "I gave this to my insurance company that did nothing about it. I was out $250 for uninsured motorist coverage, when the motorist was insured, but her company denied coverage for her 'failure to cooperate.'

"Somebody needs to go after these insurance companies for bad faith," Twigg said. "There must be a message sent that this type of behavior should not be tolerated."

Is your eye twitching from the sheer madness? The law requires that everyone have car insurance, yet it's the people out there driving without insurance or misusing their insurance who escape the consequences because they dodge responsibility or just don't care. And there's little out there forcing them to care, since insurance regulations are heavily weighted toward protecting companies, not consumers.

Where is the justice in that, readers asked?

The reality is, according to Crofton attorney Scott Conwell, "You're pretty much on your own if the accident is someone else's fault."

"An insurance company's principal duty is defense," said Conwell, who often deals with insurance cases. In other words, if you've been wronged and you want justice, you're going to have to work hard to get it.

That was the position that Charlie Lusco was stuck in when we last left him. He had done everything he was supposed to. Called the police. Jotted down all the other driver's information. Took detailed notes on the accident. Called his insurer. Pushed Geico to go after the young man and the other insurer to recoup his $250 deductible. And yet, he was still spinning his wheels six months after the accident occurred.

Such a conundrum made several readers so mad they wanted to spit. Some said Lusco should push Geico harder. Others said Lusco should go to small claims court. Still others said lawmakers should step up and revamp insurance regulations to better protect consumers such as Lusco.

I won't argue against any of those points. If we let negligent drivers get away with such outright acts of misconduct, we're allowing a flawed system to continue operating unabated.

So let's stop it. Make a promise that if the system fails you, as it did Charlie Lusco, you'll take a few extra steps to right a wrong. Contact the Maryland Insurance Administration to file a complaint against the insurance companies, write to your lawmakers to change insurance regulations or take the matter to court. If you can afford it, pay an attorney to make someone else pay for your troubles.

Be the squeaky wheel. Send a message that you won't be victimized twice, first by the accident and then by the system.

Lusco was prepared to do just that until attorney Franklin J. Muher, who has a private practice on Harford Road, offered his services to Lusco free of charge after reading about his plight.

In the event that Lusco gives up on Geico pursuing the other party, Muher is willing to help Lusco wage his own campaign for justice.

Muher said he will try to talk the young man into doing the right thing before he files suit. If the young man doesn't appear for court, Muher said he'll have a subpoena issued. If he still doesn't appear and Lusco wins a judgment, Muher will move to have the young man's wages garnished. Muher said he could also go after the young man's insurer to make it prove that every effort was made to get in touch with its client.

"It's very easy for them to deny claim," Muher said. "What is [the other insurer's] incentive to get in touch with their client? There's not much, because if they find their guy and get him to admit fault, they have to pay out the claim. ... I don't want to say that I'm going to make it a pain for this young man, but I have to because there's no incentive for him to do anything about this.

"It will take a lot of time," Muher said. "But we will get to them."

Lusco is thrilled with the offer. And well he should be, since many people don't have the time or means to take such action.

As reader Warren Updike of Towson pointed out, "The costs of justice could easily surpass the cost of the damage with no assurance of ever getting a dime." Updike said he learned that truth after he was stuck footing the bill when he was rear-ended by a driver at a light and found out the driver denied fault to his insurance agency.

That is a sad truth, indeed.

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at or by phone at 410-332-6151. Find an archive of Consuming Interest columns at

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