While the great majority of Americans would recognize The Mona Lisa, or the statue of Venus De Milo, most of us aren’t very current or cutting edge when it comes to our art tastes.

For instance, most Americans have never heard of an artist named James Hyde, who specializes in large sculptures made out of untraditional materials like styrofoam.

Nor does the name Kerry James Marshall ring a bell. Mr. Marshall is a controversial painter that uses racially charged imagery to make very powerful statements on race and our preconceptions.

It’s safe to say that most of us haven’t heard of Carter Kustera, or Beverley Semmes, or Kay Rosen. But an old magazine article from 1999 made us rethink our lack of interest in these leaders of American Art.

The magazine in question was not American Artist, or Popular Photography, or Smithsonian Magazine. Rather, it was an article from Business Week, which described the art collection owned by the Progressive Casualty Insurance Company. It is a collection that has thousands of pieces, has its own curator, and is worth millions of dollars. All of the above-mentioned artists have had their work purchased by the insurance giant, which is, according to the article, adding “hundreds of pieces a year” to its collection.

The curator of the collection is a woman named Toby Lewis, who is CEO Peter Lewis’ ex-wife. In the Business Week article, it is claimed that Ms. Lewis has the freedom to “buy whatever she wants.”

Rather than squirrel the works away in vaults or museums, Progressive displays them openly in their corporate headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. They also put works on display in their regional offices all over the country.

Their hope is that owning works by modern, living artists will pay dividends at a later date. Peter Lewis learned this lesson early when Progressive bought a series of Andy Warhol’s portraits of Mao Zedong in 1974. The value of these paintings skyrocketed upon Warhol’s death in 1987. By then, Progressive had already sold the painting for much more than what they paid for it. In fact, the same portraits were recently auctioned off at Sotheby’s for $17.4 Million.

While this is all well and good for Progressive, and while supporting the arts is certainly a noble endeavor, purchasing art wholesale in the hopes that a few of the artists turn out to be visionaries seems to be a particularly free-wheeling way to spend money, especially when that money could be used to help with the claims of their policyholders. But apparently, Progressive’s stockholders are pleased with the company’s performance. Banks that are aligned with Progressive are happy as well. According to a press release by the company, Progressive has delivered over $58 million in profit sharing revenue to their banking partners since 1991. Their employees seem to be enjoying the success as well, as Progressive has one of the more impressive benefits packages, complete with a retirement package, gym membership, and outstanding health and dental coverage.

But it seems that there is one group of people that aren’t too happy with Progressive’s performance, and that would be their policyholders.

“Even though I had a perfect driving record about every one or two weeks I would get a letter from them stating that they were raising my payments. Needless to say, I didn't stick with them long. Come to find out that they had me on a high-risk policy even though I had a perfect record, and was a good student.”Nathan, Rigby, Idaho

“I purchased a car for my son and purchased full coverage for it through Progressive. On Dec. 2001 my son rear-ended a truck and caused severe damage to his car. When we reported this to the insurance company, the adjuster assigned was Jay C. who up to this date refuses to talk to us or come and look at this car. He believes that my son was excluded from coverage even though this car and the loan were under his name. His name suddenly appeared on the exclusion list while my other son who is another driver in the household is included. He is two years younger than the excluded driver.” – Al, Edgewood, New Mexico

On Aug. 27, 2000, I had a 2000 custom Harley Davidson stolen from my home while I was gone. I called the police and they came and took the info. Four days later Mr. Appel shows up and takes my statement then he starts with talk of how any false info will result in no payment. Now they have sent the same statement form twice for me to fill out and I furnished them with pictures of the stolen bike and all my receipts and three times I have been asked for explanations of parts and where they where purchased when the info was at the top of each receipt and some parts were bought at swap meets and receipts where given. Now I'm being asked to do a sworn statement in front of a court reporter and bring my tax returns for 1998 and 1999. When I called Mike Appel up and asked him why I was being treated this way he stated that it was normal for all settlements and that Progressive did this on all claims. I feel that I am being discriminated against. I'm out an $18,000 motorcycle that took five years to put together and I'm being told that I have to give them all my personal information and being treated as if I did something wrong. I feel that I am being discriminated against and that Progressive Insurance is trying to discredit my character and not pay this claim. I have been without a bike that took me five years to build and the only thing that I get is looks when they ask about my work and they find out I'm on Workman's Compensation. I have been put through the ringer and treated like dirt. – Bradley, Worcester, NY

It seems hard to believe that a corporation that can easily purchase millions of dollars of artwork puts so much effort into nickel and diming their customers, but perhaps that is exactly how they can afford to spend so much on art. It seems beyond any scope of decency for an adjuster to deny a legitimate claim, or only offer pennies on the dollar for what the claim is worth, all while sitting directly underneath a painting that is worth half a million dollars.

You should always remember that when dealing with an insurance company, catchy jingles or heartwarming advertising have very little to do with their actual treatment of their customers. They routinely take advantage of what their customers don’t know, and having an attorney do something as simple as looking over your claim can be the difference between decent treatment and being left in the lurch.

If you or your loved ones are dealing with an insurance company that isn’t treating you fairly or with respect, contact our offices for a free legal consultation today.

Richard A. Dulaney
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Richard has over 30 years of experience in personal injury law.

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