Sean hit a deer with his car a few weeks ago. We believe him, but his insurer, State Farm, doesn’t. It’s not like the deer, which disappeared into the woods, is going to stop by his agent’s office and testify. So they were going to use his collision coverage, which would result in an increase in his premiums or even cancellation for daring to use the comprehensive policy that he was paying for. But Sean is a lawyer, and he fought back.
On June 1, 2012, I struck a deer while my 2003 Ford Focus ZX5. It happened on a rainy evening, between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. as I traveled on a wet, winding, hilly road in the heart of Pennsylvania farm country. As always I was on the lookout for deer. Unfortunately, as I rounded a sharp curve, which also marked the crest of a low hill, I spotted a deer in my path, perhaps 10-15 feet away. I braked as much as I could without skidding and tried to steer around the poor creature. Unfortunately, though, my right front bumper impacted the deer’s right hind quarter. As I had been able to slow to approximately 20 mph, the bumper merely lifted the deer, tumbling its tail section onto the hood. Then the deer became airborne, flew off to my right, and then down a heavily wooded, overgrown hillside where it disappeared.
The impact was powerful. There was damage, though. The right front side of the hood was crumpled and the bumper appeared to have lost a small bit of paint. Deer hair clung to the bumper.
After doing a bit of research to assure myself State Farm (I am a 10+ year customer who has never made a claim) I filed a claim. There would be no rate increase because I had purchased comprehensive coverage. My collision policy would not apply.
Things went well and moved fast. I soon had the estimate, State Farm had arranged for a rental car, and the final approval would soon arrive.
Except that’s not what happened. The next day, I got an early morning voice mail from State Farm. Great, I would receive the final all-clear, to get the car to the body shop. Except that’s not what happened., Instead, the male voice stated there was no evidence my car struck a deer and, as a result, State Farm was going to process the claim under my policy’s collision coverage with its $500.00 deductible and promise of a huge rate increase or policy cancellation.
Obviously, there was a mistake. A quick phone call would clear it up. Except that’s not what happened. The phone call was quick, all right, because the rep quickly told me I was fibbing. So I asked to speak to a supervisor. After a few minutes on hold, the rep was back on the line telling me someone in authority would soon call me.
Then, no one called. After a few hours I called back. I actually reached a higher up. No joy. She told me I had not hit a deer. Rather than argue I told her to stop processing my claim and prepare for legal action. I am a lawyer. In PA, we have a law that penalizes insurance companies that act in bad faith towards their insureds. I invoked the law and hung up. At no point did any rep ask if I snapped a pic. No rep ever asked me to describe the incident.
Within a hour, a rep called back. State Farm would handle my claim under comprehensive, after all. But, said the rep, we know you did not hit a deer. So you’re calling me a liar, I asked? No, said the rep – it’s just your car did not strike a deer. But I did hit a deer. No you didn’t. So you’re calling me a liar? No I’m not. How do you know? Hair and guts would have been stuck to your car if you had hit a deer. Not even the wind an rain can wash it off. So you’re calling me a liar? No I’m not. I can’t do business with a company accusing me of engaging in insurance fraud. After the car is repaired. I’m cancelling all my policies – home, auto, work related, etc. That’s your prerogative. And you didn’t hit a deer.
I complained to my agent. He is trying to make me happy. I emailed him a picture of the car, I took the day after the impact. Deer hair is visible on the left side of the bumper. But it had disappeared by the time the appraiser came on the scene.
Lesson: Document, photograph, toss the carcass in the trunk if you have to. To State Farm, no hair or guts means there was no deer.
It’s sad that we need our own documentation beyond the adjuster’s under these circumstances, but Sean’s advice is true and useful. Take your own photos before leaving the scene, even if it’s just with a camera phone in the dark.