Meatloaf and Jenga, My Ass

Law Firm 10 Columns, Law Firm 10, Lawyer

I’ve actually been busy and feeling less demoralized recently, thanks to doing lots of Insurance Recovery work. (To the uninitiated, fighting with insurance companies for large claims on behalf of corporate policyholders). The IR partners are the most humane in the litigation group—not to mention the only ones with lots of work right now.

It’s funny how otherwise soulless litigation gains luster simply by having an identifiable enemy on the other side. Insurance companies—regardless of distinction—are awful. They have the unique ability to crush almost anything in their paths. They’re the Goliath of all Goliaths—as in somehow they’re able to render Fortune 50 companies with clever, fancy lawyers (that’s me) and multimillion dollar litigation budgets into little more than a guy in leather sandals with a stone in his hand.

This past Friday, we were handed a crushing (and unjust) defeat by a trial court judge. Unsurprisingly, the judge’s former career in private practice occurred at a large firm that gets the bulk of its billable work from insurance companies.

I decided to console myself with some weekend TV. But just as only Huggies and EPT commercials seem to air when I fear that I’m pregnant, every single commercial seemed to be for an insurance company. Maybe I’m extra hyper because I chased a spinning class with a large Dunkin Donuts coffee, but I’m reeling with rage over an Allstate Insurance commercial that just hijacked my Sony Bravia screen.

In it, an actor (who the rest of us know as David Palmer, the first black president of the fictional United States on the hit TV show 24) beguilingly delivers a message that I hope the general public recognizes as absurd—not to mention condescending and outrageous.  He piously touts the lessons that “we’ve” learned over the past year. For instance, that “meatloaf and Jenga can actually be more fun than reservations and box seats,” and that “who’s around your TV is more important than how big it is.”

First off, who’s this “we” to which fictional President Palmer refers? Surely not current Allstate execs, given that chief Thomas J. Wilson’s $2.92 million in take-home pay led to a Forbes ranking of #371 for CEO compensation in 2009 (and his $9.51 million in compensation gave him a #184 ranking in 2008). I’m guessing that the last time Wilson crowded around a rabbit-eared, late-model TV with his buddies in a ramshackle garage was, um, never.

Fictional President Palmer similarly can’t be referring to Allstate’s past execs, either, since the handsomely paid Wilson replaced none other than Edward M. Liddy as chief—Liddy’s exploits since leaving Allstate for AIG include delivering a giant “Eff you!” to American taxpayers by signing off on $165 million in executive bonuses on the heels of a staggering $150 billion taxpayer bailout—actions that were condemned by the real-life first black President of the United States.

In other words, the insurance giant and its henchmen want to make sure that we understand that we should learn to appreciate the cheaper things in life, since their actions have solidified that we sure as hell won’t ever be able to afford anything else. Although that doesn’t square with the underlying theme of the commercial, which seems to hint that the blame for our new inability to drive fancy cars and sit in box seats falls on us for having foolishly overextended ourselves by purchasing those things in the first place.

The final insulting blow comes at the end of the commercial, when we’re reminded that Allstate’s insurance places us in “good hands.” I’m shocked that any consumer could be lulled into submission with this metaphor, given that the book From Good Hands to Boxing Gloves: The Dark Side of Insurance has been on the shelves since 2006. The book (which Allstate fought mightily to prevent from being published) details Allstate’s overhaul of auto insurance claims operations during the 1990s—at the behest of management consulting giant McKinsey & Co.—with the stated goal of enhancing stock prices. In short, Allstate implemented a program of systematically denying legitimate claims by policyholders in order to enrich their investors. Their express goal was to save executives and investors hundreds of millions of dollars every year not by reducing expenses and compensation, but rather by reducing the payment of (legitimate) claims to policyholders.

Pass the meatloaf, please.

Oh, and did I mention that in May the Treasury Department listed Allstate as one of six insurers preliminarily approved to receive TARP capital infusions?  Picking up the tab, yet again, will be the Jenga-playing, meatloaf-engorged masses.

It seems safe to conclude that Allstate won’t ever be forced to suffer any genuine retribution for any of this, so I guess all I can do is hope that there will be a special circle of hell reserved for insurance execs, where they can spend all of eternity in an endless Jenga competition, subsisting only on meatloaf, and being forced to watch their mockingly heartfelt ad campaigns on crappy TVs.

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