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Insurer Will Pay In Case That Quickly Went Viral

Monday, New York comedian Matt Fisher wrote a very serious blog post headlined "My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court."

It quickly drew considerable attention on the Web, bad publicity for Progresssive Insurance and coverage from national news outlets because he laid out a sad story:

-- His sister Katie was killed in a Baltimore car accident on June 19, 2010.

-- The other driver's insurance company "looked at the situation and settled with my sister's estate basically immediately."

-- But because that other driver was underinsured, Katie's insurance company was "now on the hook for the difference [about $75,000] between the other guy's insurance and the value of Katie's policy."

-- That company, Progressive Insurance, Fisher wrote, "refused to pay the policy to my sister's estate."

-- His parents had to go to court to prove the other driver's negligence. And during that trial, attorneys for Progressive basically ended up on the opposite side from Katie's estate. Hence the title of Fisher's blog post.

Tuesday, Progressive posted a statement saying it "did not serve as the attorney for the defendant in this case. He was defended by his insurance company, Nationwide."

To which Fisher responded that:

"At the beginning of the trial on Monday, August 6th, an attorney identified himself as Jeffrey R. Moffat and stated that he worked for Progressive Advanced Insurance Company. He then sat next to the defendant [the other driver]. During the trial, both in and out of the courtroom, he conferred with the defendant. He gave an opening statement to the jury, in which he proposed the idea that the defendant should not be found negligent in the case. He cross-examined the plaintiff's witnesses. On direct examination, he questioned all of the defense's witnesses. He made objections on behalf of the defendant, and he was a party to the argument of all of the objections heard in the case. After all of the witnesses had been called, he stood before the jury and gave a closing argument, in which he argued that my sister was responsible for the accident that killed her, and that the jury should not decide that the defendant was negligent."

Thursday, Progressive announced that "an agreement has been reached with the Fisher family to settle the claim." It added that:

"Under Maryland law, in order to receive the benefits of an underinsured driver claim, the other driver must be at fault. Sometimes this can be proven without the need for a trial, but in Ms. Fisher's case, there were credible conflicting eyewitness accounts as to who was at fault. A trial was necessary so that a jury could review all of the evidence and come to a decision. ... As a defendant in this case, Progressive participated in the trial procedures on our own behalf while Nationwide represented the other driver."

Today, Fisher and those who knew Katie are tweeting about her: #KatieFisher. Here's one of his from Thursday that sounds like something one loving sibling would say about another: "#KatieFisher was mean to all of my girlfriends except for @DanaM42, who went on to become my wife."

As he told The Associated Press, "the thing I would like more than anything to be talking about is how much I loved my sister."

Update at 11:15 a.m. ET: NBC News' Red Tape Chronicles blog says that the "lessons from [the] Progressive screw up" are that "when it's Twitter vs. lawyers, take Twitter."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.