Wednesday, 26 August 2009
The following day, I talked with the agent again. When I suggested that the car was worth more than what she had offered, she scoffed and, with some mixture of indignance and bewilderment at my very suggestion informed me that "this was not a negotiation." She explained that the very job of companies like Autosource, who are very good at what they do, is to determine the values of vehicles. Her hands were tied—Washington state law prevented her from giving me any amount other than what the neutral third party decided was the value of the car, she said.
I frustratedly started to ask for some clarifications, and eventually she did admit that if I could fax her some proof of the original mileage on the car (6 miles), she could run some calculations to estimate the actual mileage at the time of the theft, and if her estimate came out less than the 5,000 I had originally stated was the actual approximate mileage, she might get different numbers back from Autosource. She would also "follow up" and see why only two of the listed vehicles had automatic transmissions, but it wouldn't change the amount of money I would be getting. I was not impressed, and no normal-driver estimation of mileage was going to say that a car that had been used as a primary vehicle for 11 months only had 5,000 miles; the average American drives more like 15,000 a year.
By then she had started to become frustrated as well, and finally said that if I didn't believe that I was getting a fair number, I'd have to pay for an independent appraiser, and then so would Progressive, and it wouldn't accomplish anything because they'd use the exact same process and come up with the same sort of number that she was already offering me. And that was it.
After she hung up, I thought things over, and decided that she had gone too far. Too many of the things that she said sounded untrue, and by making me wait a day between our conversations after having waited so long already it seemed likely that she was just trying to draw things out as long as possible so that I'd give up and accept her number. So I called her bluff, gathered all of the emotional strength I could muster, and I looked up the number of the Washington State insurance commissioner. I really didn't want to turn my financial battle into a legal one.
I was quickly transferred to an analyst who asked for my story, and I told it to her in fewer words than I'm using here. She seemed very confused. There was, of course, no such law that would prevent this agent from working out a mutually acceptable value for the car. She strongly suggested that I immediately demand to know which specific law (by its Revised Code of Washington or Washington Administrative Code number) she was quoting, because she was surely either making it up, or interpreting it very strangely. She admitted that hiring an appraiser would cost me several hundred dollars and thus not really be worth the time and effort, so my best hope was to threaten the agent with a formal complaint if she didn't "sharpen her pencil," which she would likely take seriously. Any settlement I came to with Progressive would be legally binding, but there was a possibility that if a complaint were filed and they found the agent guilty of wrongdoing they would help me settle for more money, but it would take a month and I shouldn't count on anything. Not having to file a complaint was still the best outcome, and that I could certainly agree with.
When the analyst told me all this, it filled me with a sort of righteous vengeance that I wasn't really expecting. Before that moment, this agent was someone who was annoying me. Now she was someone who had wronged me, and it certainly seemed like the law was on my side. I started looking up Washington law on the topic—I've been consistently impressed with how well and easy-to-read the laws are written here—and found several things that seemed in direct contrast to what the agent had told me, and very little that seemed to support her point of view. I was looking forward to hearing the agent backpedal the next morning.
(For the curious: the definition of a comparable vehicle; settlement requirements and adjustments.)