By SCOTT BLASS

Not long ago Liberty Mutual launched an advertising campaign where it claimed that insurance companies should choose to do the right thing, being honest, fair and respectful in their dealings with their policyholders.

But the glitz and glamour of advertising rarely match up with hard reality. Unfortunately, insurance companies are driven by profit. Given the choice between doing the right thing and putting money in their pockets, most of them would - well, you guessed it, they'd take the money! The company's bottom line is more important than things like fairness and loyalty.

This can be seen in the way many insurers handled claims arising out of the derecho which hit most of West Virginia this past summer. The storm caused widespread damage, tearing siding off homes, ripping holes in roofs, etc. Hundreds of West Virginia homeowners made claims. After all, that's exactly why we purchase a homeowner's policy in the first place.

But insurers were not so quick to part with their money. In many cases, they delayed the payment of claims, or wrangled over the amount, or denied claims outright. Even if payment was made, some insurers added insult to injury by proceeding to cancel the policy. Why? Because a bean counter said it would help the company's bottom line.

The West Virginia Legislature is considering a bill, SB 410, which would prevent insurance companies from treating their policyholders like this. If a policy has been in effect for three years, then an insurer could not cancel the policy or fail to renew it simply because the policyholder made a claim that arose out of natural causes. There is a similar bill, SB 434, which would prohibit rate increases for auto insurance when the policyholder has an accident that is not his fault. In other words, the insurer couldn't jack up the premium if the policyholder was involved in a wreck which was someone else's fault.

Both of these bills come down to simple fairness. We buy insurance to compensate us in the event of a loss. When a loss is caused by something totally out of the policyholder's control, fairness demands that the policyholder shouldn't be penalized.

These bills make good sense. If insurers won't choose to do the right thing, then it's up to the legislature to see that it's done. That's why the West Virginia Association for Justice is supporting these two bills. As WVAJ president, I'm a strong advocate of legislation requiring insurance companies to honor their policies and treat their policyholders fairly. I urge you to join me and WVAJ in supporting passage of this worthwhile legislation.

Scott Blass is an attorney with Bordas & Bordas and also the current president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.

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