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Doug Robinson: Unexpected breakup hard to understand

Published: Monday, Feb. 11 2013 10:57 p.m. MST

As breakups go, this was painful. It came in the form of a letter and later a phone call. After more than 30 years in a deeply committed relationship, he was informed that they were finished and even suggested he find someone else. The decades of loyalty, the personal investment, the things they'd done together — they amounted to nothing. He had made mistakes, so they were done.

Lyle Burrup's insurance company was telling him goodbye.

His policy would not be renewed.

Like a good neighbor, they were there — right up to that part when he needed them a couple of times.

They were saying goodbye not just to Lyle — a 65-year-old retiree in Sandy — but to his wife Necia and one of their children, Brandon, who are all on the same automobile policy — Lyle and Necia for three decades and Brandon since he began driving about 14 years ago.

Just like that, their auto coverage was being dropped because in the past three years, Brandon had had one accident and one ticket; Necia had had one accident and a ticket; and Lyle one ticket.

Never mind that they had been loyal customers since about 1980 and had maintained driving records that were good enough to receive good-driver discounts. Never mind that the family had paid thousands of dollars in premiums over the years and that the company had certainly turned their money into more money. Never mind that the reason the Burrups that those accidents were precisely the reason they had paid those premiums — paid for in full, up front.

Never mind that Brandon's accident wasn't really even his fault — in December, an oncoming vehicle veered into his lane and forced him to veer off the road into a railroad track, resulting in $2,700 worth of damage to his car. The only reason it was officially recorded as his fault is because the other driver was nowhere to be found and someone had to be blamed.

Brandon's lone ticket: He used the right lane to pass a slow-moving truck that was blocking the fast lane. Who doesn't do that?

Never mind that Necia, who is 63, has had just three tickets since she was 16. About that accident: She and another woman backed their cars into each other as they were pulling out of parking spaces at Costco.

None of this mattered. Their insurance company wanted a divorce.

"I was more offended than angry," says Necia. "I didn't want to change. I have emotional ties to these people. I've been through things with them. I was hurt and offended."

TheBurrups and the insurance company — it could have been any insurance company since they all follow pretty much the same protocols — had endured hard times together. Many years ago the Burrup's daughter was killed in an automobile accident. She was not at fault in the accident, but her insurance covered part of the costs because the other driver was under-insured.

We all know that the insurance business is just that. But how fair is it that a customer pays money for years to cover himself in the event he makes a mistake, and then when he makes that mistake he is punished (higher premiums) or divorced. Almost everyone at some point has decided not to file a claim with his insurance company because he fears his rates will be raised. How crazy – and yet widely accepted – is that?

What happened to the Burrups is not uncommon. Agents, meanwhile, are caught in the middle between their clients – with whom they often have a personal connection – and their companies – who are their employers. They don't want to lose a customer, especially one who has been loyal to them for years and for whom they often have a personal connection, but they are also loyal to their company.

The bottom line is that the Burrups – and others like them -- should never receive such a letter in the first place, but at least their agent should act as their advocate with the company.

And that is what finally happened for the Burrups. This story has a good ending. After a phone call from the media, things started to happen. Their agent called the company and, well, things were worked out. Lyle and Necie will remain with the company, with the same premium. Brandon will have his own policy, with his rate raised by $20 a month.

The relationship was saved. They're getting back together.

"I just wonder why it ever had to come to this," says Lyle.

email: drob@desnews.com

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