Great American Insurance succumbs to Great American Pressure

As I wrote in a previous blog, Great American Insurance Company filed suit in the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division Federal Court against Boxer Property Management Company and the building owner of 9343 North Loop East. At this building, three innocent victims lost their lives to a fire on March 28, 2007. A state court lawsuit filed by the victims against Boxer and the building owner alleges the two defendants knew of the lack of fire safety devices and choose to ignore repeated suggestions to upgrade their system. The state court lawsuit progressed for a year and a half, when out of the blue, Boxer’s excess insurance company (Great American) filed the federal court action trying to avoid paying the claims of the three decedents because they died of smoke inhalation. Great American claimed the smoke inhalation was really “pollution” for which there was an exclusion in the insurance policy and thus Great American owed no coverage.

For this, I awarded Great American the first annual Smoke and Mirrors Award — an award given to the insurance company that takes the greediest or most ridiculous position in a calendar year. Judging by the response of the public and the nationwide attention this federal court claim garnered, Great American was the right choice to win this award.

Well just recently, Great American decided to dismiss its federal court case. The word on the street is that customers of Great American were outraged by this position — those customers recognizing they may not have the same insurance coverage they thought they were buying. It was reported in the Houston Chronicle the Texas Insurance Board was looking into Great American, and insurance agents who knew about this federal court case were steering their customers to other insurance companies. As reported by Mary Flood, who broke this story in the Houston Chronicle, Great American issued a late January press release announcing the dismissal of their lawsuit. The Chronicle kept on top of this story and the pressure was surely felt in the board room of Great American.

Great American doesn’t forfeit its victory of the Smoke and Mirrors Award, but the Houston Chronicle, and its reporters and editorial staff, deserve consideration of an award by businesses from across this country for bringing this seemingly frivolous claim to light. The power of the press was never more evident than in the case involving Great American Insurance Company.