I can't believe that claim! Outrageous insurance tales
Strange is our situation here upon earth. Though he wasn’t thinking about insurance claims, Albert Einstein’s words could be engraved on the doors of many insurance claims adjusters, examiners and investigators. Most of the time, insurance claims are run-of-the-mill. Sometimes claims fall on the wrong side of the law, like when a driver decides to torch his own car. Occasionally, a claim that crosses an insurance adjuster's desk is downright bizarre.
Who let the dogs out?
Man’s best friend makes for numerous unusual claims. According to Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), the largest provider of pet insurance in the United States, dogs get mixed up in all sorts of trouble. That includes a dog that locked itself in a refrigerator during the holidays and ate the family’s entire Thanksgiving ham while waiting to be found. The pooch suffered from a mild case of hypothermia but no serious injuries.
Then there was the mixed breed that chased its own tail and caught it — coming close to chewing it off — and a French bulldog that ingested more than 50 tealight candles. In both cases, the owners made claims for medical treatment and the insurance company paid.
In another case, a Jack Russell ate a wild turtle, which lodged part of its shell in the canine’s nasal cavity. The problem was left undiscovered for several weeks until a surgeon noticed it while operating on the dog due to respiratory problems. VPI also received claims for a Boston terrier that shut itself into a recliner and a Labrador retriever who ate a box of disposable razors. Pet insurance covered the medical bills in each of these incidents.
Replacing the irreplaceable
Some damaged items just cannot be replaced. Chauncey Nickson, who works in State Farm’s claims department, specializes in replacing rare and unique insured items. In the early stage of his career with State Farm, he dealt with a claim for two Egyptian mummies. The ancient duo (insured at $40,000 a piece) was stored behind glass in two individual sarcophaguses inside someone’s home.
"The homeowner had a party and someone had too much to drink and broke the glass," Nickson says.
While the ancient human mummies were left unscathed, the broken glass scratched the wooden surface of their sarcophaguses. Priceless artifacts, the sarcophaguses could not be replaced, but State Farm paid to have them restored.
In another case, the insurance company was asked to replace a human brain. A doctor had insured a brain (not his own), which he kept inside a jar. It had long been a family heirloom. One day, his office was burglarized — and the prized brain stolen.
"Well, it was illegal for us to purchase a [human] brain," Nickson says. "So we were able to replace it with a plastic brain instead — and he was happy with it."
But what do you do when it’s next to impossible to determine a claim’s value? Nickson had one one of those cases too. A toilet seat that had been painted by artist Jackson Pollock.
"The policyholder was friends with Jackson," Nickson says. "One day, they had a party and Jackson had too much to drink and locked himself in the bathroom and decided to paint on the toilet seat." Decades after Pollock’s death, the policyholder’s home suffered great damage in a fire — including the toilet seat. When the claim was filed, insurance adjusters were scratching their heads when trying to figure out the toilet seat’s value.
"His paintings were going for $1 million each," Nickson says. "So we had to come to some sort of average between a $1 million painting and a $20 toilet seat." The final decision: The man settled for $820 cash.
As you might expect, people have a tendency to insure items once owned by celebrities. Nickson says that State Farm insures a variety of memorabilia, especially items once owned by the Beatles and Elvis Presley. Whenever possible, Nickson’s job is to replace the item. For example, a lot of folks insure scarves once owned by Elvis (he was known to wipe his sweat on them). During his career with State Farm, Nickson has replaced two Elvis scarves — one that was blown away by a tornado. The insurance company replaced both scarves with others that Elvis once owned.
"I have a relationship with people throughout the country, so that we can get our hands on these types of items," he says.
Demanding appropriate compensation
Then there's the Oregon man who demanded to be reimbursed for his stolen marijuana. Normally, you’d think someone wouldn’t report such a theft for fear of criminal prosecution, but in this case "he had legal permission to smoke marijuana and grow it," says Kathy Jones, an independent agent and certified insurance counselor from Washington, adding that the drugs were used to alleviate pain that the man suffered as a result of chronic disease. "He grew five marijuana plants that were 9 feet tall in his yard."
Then the man asked to be paid the "street value" of his drugs. His insurance company argued that since the stolen items were plants, it would pay no more than $500 per plant or a total sum of $1,000 — the maximum coverage for damaged/stolen plants under his home insurance policy.
Going the extra mile
Some folks go the extra mile to try to get a claim paid. Take the case of the man whose girlfriend crashed his motorcycle. Worried the claim wouldn’t be paid, he told his Progressive Insurance representative that he’d been driving the bike. In order to support his story, he tied himself to the back of a truck and asked a friend to drag him around "a little bit" to produce a road rash. He didn’t know that his girlfriend already told investigators that she caused the accident.
It’s fairly common for uninsured drivers to attempt to buy insurance coverage after a vehicle has been damaged. It’s much less common for a person to purchase insurance from the scene of an accident. While lying on the side of the road with a ruptured spleen after he wiped out his motorcycle, a man dialed 1-800-PROGRESSIVE on his cell phone to buy coverage on the spot. Unfortunately for him, a witness heard him make the call and reported it to the insurance company.
"Some of those claims might sound outrageous, but insurance fraud isn't funny and it isn't a victimless crime," says Jeff Moore, who works for Progressive's special investigations unit. "Fraudulent insurance claims cause costs to go up and honest customers are the ones who pay the price."