The case of Flo and the swimming motorhome

The case of Flo and the swimming motorhome

 

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Stock photo. squeaks2569 on flickr.com

Scene: A federal district courtroom in California.

Issues: Insurance company essentially asks judge to toss out an RV owner’s loss-by-theft claim.

Disclaimer: We don’t know everything about this story (we never claimed to be mind readers), but the facts of the case, lifted from court records, do paint an interesting — if not thought-provoking — picture.

History: On Monday, November 10, 2014, Progressive Insurance received a report of a stolen 1961 GMC diesel pusher motorhome from its owner, John Cordell Young, Jr. Young told Progressive his rig had vanished. It didn’t take long for the rig to surface — well, sort of. Police found the missing motorhome the same day, in a canal. Oddly enough, the steering wheel of the rig was tied up with a rope, and a stick was neatly wedging down the accelerator pedal. Missing from the rig were its license plates and VIN number plate.

Mr. Young had made an agreement with Progressive that the rig’s replacement cost would be $63,000 — and there was a zero-dollar deductible for such a claim. It didn’t take long for the company to decide it needed to do a little more investigating before cutting Young a check.

Did you know that Progressive has a “special investigations unit”? Picture the gang from CSI working for Flo and you’ve properly connected the dots. And just like TV shows, cell phone records soon became a pivotal point that would decide whether or not Young got his payoff. When the phone records for John Young III — the insured’s son — were scrutinized, Progressive’s PIs noticed that at 4:03 a.m., the morning the rig mysteriously vanished, there was a ping from a cell tower — the one closest to the canal where the “missing” motorhome went swimming.

The lad’s father was quick to tell insurance investigators that he figured the boy’s cell phone had pinged off that tower simply because the phone had been inadvertently left in one of his customer’s vehicles over the weekend. Mind you, the motorhome was reported stolen on a Monday. However, the younger Young told investigators he thought he had his phone that weekend, and he couldn’t think of anyone else who’d be using his phone at that time. Both the boy and his father testified to their answers under oath. Further sifting of cell phone records showed the son’s phone had been used from the Friday prior to the reported loss, right on through the weekend, both near the family home, and in Modesto, about five miles away.

Eight months after John Young Jr. filed his claim with Progressive, the company turned him down, and Young then sued Progressive for breach of contract. How would the court rule? Recently, the decision came back.

While the court didn’t task itself with determining who dipped the diesel pusher, it did agree with Progressive’s reasoning behind denying the claim. Read the fine print in your insurance policy, and you’ll likely find a clause that reads something about making a “material misrepresentation with regard to a claim.” In this case, Progressive told John Young to take a running leap off the dock as he had lied to them about the son’s cell phone being in a customer’s vehicle the weekend the motorhome was “stolen.”

Was the deceit about where the phone was really “material” to the case? The judge found it to be so. Identifying where Young’s son was at the time the motorhome was stolen was “directly relevant to establishing that the motorhome had indeed been stolen or if it had been intentionally sunk by its owner.” You lie, your claim dies.

Young’s claim was essentially washed up, leaving him without the $63,000 and with a washed-up motorhome. And who knows — there could be a criminal investigation to follow.

##RVT801

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4 thoughts on “The case of Flo and the swimming motorhome

  1. Jillie

    We have progressive and I love the insurance on this thing. Wow is what I say because we had two problems with the last two pop ups and ended up stranded because of it. Liberty and State Farm did not help us with flat tires. We ended up with help from really nice people. Progressive said its in their book will set us up in a hotel if we encounter another problem with the new trailer AND send in a tow truck to the nearest RV Dealer if need be. Other wise they send the tow truck to replace the tire. Nice huh?

    1. Laura

      Good luck, if it ever comes to needing them. They’ve got it down to a science. B and it’s about that road service: I thought my policy included that, but when I needed it, I was told that isn’t part of my policy. And no option for emergency housing, either. Check your declaration sheet to be sure…

  2. Tina GAllagher

    My first car fire as a rookie firefighter was a case of fraud. The car (a mercedez) was burning in a field. As we fought the fire, PD went to speak to the owner. He wasn’t suspected, but as the officers asked questions, the guy became increasingly nervous and confessed. He couldn’t make the payments so he drove the car to the field, lit it and called it in stolen. He was going to call an ins. claim in the AM. Well, at least he wasn’t charged with ins. fraud, but he was charged with lying to police, filing a false report and arson. That’s bad enough.

  3. Grumpyoldtimer

    You would be surprised at the number of fraudulent claims presented by policyholders. If one includes inflated claims (claiming 4 TVs stolen rather than the actual 2 for instance) the estimate is 25% of all claim dollars are fraudulent. I worked in the insurance business for 40+ years and the actual stories are legend. Arson of cars or dumping them in bodies of water and then claiming theft are common.
    Most major insurance companies have SI units to investigate possible fraud. I have testified for my old company at a trial like this one. Remember, every fraudulent claim dollar comes right out of insurance premiums paid. Some of your premium dollars paid went to fraud.
    Fortunately for honest policyholders, most companies are vigilant at detecting fraud. And many crooks are not very smart and arrogant and get caught. Even with that, too much goes to dishonest crooks.
    If we ever meet in person I can share stories of actual cases that will make you laugh and sometimes just shake your head. Or cry.

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