I spent yesterday in beautiful Des Moines, Iowa, watching and aiding Chip Merlin in a deposition of an insurance agent in an agent negligence case. On a cloudless day that had highs in the low 70’s, I was stuck in a third floor office suite for a nine or ten hour deposition marathon. But the lesson I learned more than made up for missing out on the great weather. Chip has mentioned before that establishing duty is the key to agent negligence cases, and he showed that gathering and using advertisements distributed by an agent or agency can go a long way to do just that.
Evidenced by the depositions yesterday, insurance agents will likely try to separate themselves from the promises they made to their clients. Advertisements, though, show exactly how an agent or agency held themselves out to clients. Yesterday, Chip asked whether or not the agent gave advice to clients or otherwise aided them in deciding what insurance coverages to purchase. Not wanting to admit to an extra duty, the agent stated that he gives out information, not necessarily advice. Unfortunately for the agent, Chip confronted him with brochures produced by his company that said, “Advice and Answers – Always” and that the agency “earns straight A’s for analyzing, advising, arranging, and administering insurance solutions that cover all bases.”
The agent went on to say that he would only purchase the insurance specifically requested by his client, but another advertisement made the following claim:
It’s our business to know your business so we can customize solutions based on your specific needs.
One of the more surprising developments was how the agent tried to claim the dozens of testimonials distributed by the agency over the years were merely the words of others and not indicative of agency promises. The testimonials had quotes like,
[This agency] provides an important part of the expert advice we rely on.
[They] learned my business so I didn’t have to learn insurance.
They showed me every reasonable option in the marketplace, then made a recommendation.
Over the course of the deposition, it became very clear that this agency promised expert know-how, exceptional service, and integrity. The advertisements showed exactly what the agent was trying to avoid – accountability.