On June 25, as Tami Furuta drove along a residential street in Newton, a car pulled out from the curb and smashed into the passenger side of her car.
The driver who hit Furuta’s vehicle was presumptively at fault for pulling out in traffic, and that person’s insurer should have covered Furuta’s medical and auto repair bills.
But that insurer eventually told Furuta there was no coverage. Why? Because at the time of the crash, the driver was working for Amazon Flex making food deliveries. And by doing so without telling her insurance company, she had effectively voided her coverage.
So began a stressful and bewildering two months for Furuta, with long hours on the phone and online dealing with three corporate titans, including Amazon, one of the richest companies in the world.
“It’s been a miserable experience,” Furuta said when we met in a coffee shop in Cambridge. “I feel like the little person nobody wants to pay attention to.”
Particularly frustrating were her dealings with Amazon, which is increasingly dependent on drivers like the one who hit Furuta’s car, independent contractors who zip around in their private vehicles toting packages for about $20 an hour. As of last year, there were 8,000 Flex drivers in Massachusetts picking up packages at distribution centers to make “last mile” deliveries.
And with Amazon’s planned 250,000-square-foot facility in Braintree, that will mean ever-more delivery drivers on area roads.
The warehouse, in an industrial park on Campanelli Drive, would be a key link in Amazon’s growing distribution network in the Boston area. The 24/7 operation would make possible more same- and next-day deliveries to much of the city and its southern and western suburbs.
But back to Furuta.
Here’s what happened:
After the crash, Furuta contacted Geico, her insurer, which told her she would have to pay an upfront $500 deductible if she filed a claim. But if she filed instead with the other driver’s insurer, Progressive, there would be no deductible because that driver was presumptively at fault.
Progressive accepted her claim, sent her to an adjuster, and approved several thousand dollars worth of repairs to her 2014 Honda. But then, days before the repairs were to be made, Progressive called a time-out. It told Furuta it had discovered that its insured driver, Mercedes Duran, had violated the terms of her policy — and thus voided it — by driving for Amazon without telling her insurer. (I knocked on Duran’s door and left a letter asking her to contact me but heard nothing from her.)
Progressive suggested Furuta file a claim with Geico, her own insurer. But what is striking to me, after several days of research, is that Progressive never suggested she file a claim with Amazon, which has ample insurance for its drivers — strictly limited to times when drivers are actually making deliveries. (Similar to Amazon, such ride-sharing companies as Uber require drivers to have personal insurance but provide coverage for them when they are on the job).
I would assume Progressive, as one of the biggest players in the auto insurance business, knew of Amazon’s insurance policy (or would have checked the Amazon Flex website, as I did). Yet it inexplicably said nothing about it to Furuta, pretty much washing its hands of the whole matter.
So Furuta went back to Geico, which covered the repairs, but demanded the $500 deductible from her, also without mentioning that she look to Amazon for coverage.
Instead, Geico told Furuta that she could attempt to recover her $500 from Duran by taking “legal action” against her. Geico itself had a claim against Duran, for the thousands it had spent to repair Furuta’s car, plus her medical bills. Furuta experienced headaches, nausea, and stiffness in her neck and shoulder after the crash.
And Geico wasn’t happy about Furuta’s mounting medical bills. In an Aug. 6 letter, Geico ordered her to submit to an “independent medical evaluation” by a doctor hired by Geico.
“It felt like I am being pressured to discontinue my treatment,” Furuta said. (When injuries occur in accidents, the medical insurers of the injured typically look to off-load responsibility for paying bills to the insurers of whomever is deemed at fault.)
Furuta made repeated attempts to get Amazon to pay for the crash, with no luck.
I made a round of calls to the corporate offices of Progressive, Geico, and Amazon. Progressive and Geico responded by telling me or Furuta that they would, belatedly, open claims against Amazon (Geico wants to be reimbursed for the cost of the repairs it has already paid for). They refused to respond to my questions about exactly why it had taken so long.
Several days after I first contacted Amazon, the retail giant cut a check for $500 to cover Furuta’s deductible, pledged full coverage of her other expenses, and acknowledged a customer service breakdown, which it said was being dealt with within the company.
C’mon, corporate America. Do better by the “little person.”
. . .
I think we can finally close the books on L’Espalier, the Back Bay gourmet restaurant that closed abruptly on Dec. 31, leaving scores of people stuck with expensive gift cards they could no longer use.
One of them got the ball rolling on getting a refund within hours of the closing by complaining to me: “It this legal? Is it ethical? Could you look into this?”
In the column that followed, I wrote that no state regulation dealt directly with this kind of situation but that the way owner Frank McClelland stiffed card-holders certainly didn’t seem right.
That’s when the office of Attorney General Maura Healey stepped up, citing the state’s consumer protection law, Chapter 93A, which outlaws “unfair and deceptive” practices by businesses.
After weeks of tough negotiations, Healey’s office and McClelland struck a deal under which McClelland agreed to make $11,400 available to card-holders.
Ultimately, 66 people made claims deemed legitimate by Healey’s office for a total of more than $15,000. That meant card-holders would get about 75 cents on the dollar of the amount owed to them.
Earlier this month, checks began arriving at the homes of card-holders. One reader wrote to me how “pleased and surprised” he was to get $221.09 back on his $300 gift card.
Squeaky wheel gets the oil.