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The Big-Bang Theory

Consumers collide with a insurance company red tape.

Just before 1 p.m. on Thursday, September 23, Arlyn Shapiro was at the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Exposition Street, preparing to walk across Colorado.

Heading south back to work and stopped at the crosswalk was Natalie Madrigal, behind the wheel of her 1962 Pritschenwagen, a restored VW truck that this summer had won Best of Show at the fourteenth annual Palo Duro Canyon Cruise sponsored by Top of Texas Volkswagens.

Stopped behind her was Lew Cady, at the wheel of a much more mundane 1998 Toyota Avalon. He was admiring the VW and wishing it would turn right on red so he could do the same, when...

Blam! A Chevy pickup slammed into the Toyota, which slammed into the VW, which slammed into the crosswalk and into Shapiro.

"I remember his face right up against the windshield," says Madrigal, "and then he was under my vehicle."

Shapiro emerged, bruised but alive, and they congregated by the side of the road, waiting for the police. A good Samaritan pulled up, parked her car and ran over, saying she'd seen the whole thing, that the Chevy pickup had been going erratically, like its driver was drunk, and "he'd been up on the curb and everything." The he turned out to be a she, her hair tucked under a baseball cap. She sat in the truck, staring, while two officers talked to the witness and took down insurance information: The 1998 Chevy truck that had set the mess in motion belonged to Paul Sand, boyfriend of the driver, and was insured by State Farm. Then the Chevy's driver and Shapiro shared an ambulance ride to the hospital, the traffic cops arrived, and Cady and Madrigal sat in the backseat of Officer W.J. Moore's car as he wrote his report: "Vehicle #1 traveling south in the right through lane of S.bound S. Colorado Blvd. struck with her front the rear of Vehicle #2 (Cady) who was stopped. Vehicle #2 was knocked forward and struck with his front the rear of Vehicle #3 (Madrigal) who had been stopped. Vehicle #3 was knocked forward into the crosswalk and struck with her front Pedestrian #4 (Shapiro) who was crossing Colorado Blvd. in the crosswalk. Driver #2 stated: I got knocked into the car in front of me. Driver #3 stated: I got knocked into the pedestrian. Pedestrian stated: I got knocked down onto the ground."

It seemed so straightforward. But Cady and Madrigal were about to get a real crash course on how the insurance industry can run you over, leaving skid marks on your soul and your bank accounts. And the hits just keep on coming.


After the accident, Madrigal was shaking, too stunned from her almost-fatal encounter with Shapiro to realize that she was hurting, too. She'd called her boss, who stopped by to see if she was okay. And then Mike Rich, her boyfriend and a VW restoration expert, arrived, took one look at the truck and knew it had to be towed.

Cady, a notoriously hardheaded creative type, had hit his car visor so hard that it had broken off and fallen into his lap. But he figured there was nothing physically wrong that a few beers (his trunk now held eleven broken bottles and one intact beer, along with the license plate of the Chevy) couldn't cure. And although his car's condition was much more depressing -- the body shop's current estimate is $13,761.63 on a car that blue-books for $26,000 -- he figured that, too, would be made right. The Chevy was insured by State Farm, after all.

But a week later, claims adjusters informed the other drivers that State Farm wouldn't be covering them. Not Cady, who'd been hit by the Chevy. Not Madrigal, who'd been hit by Cady, who'd been hit by the Chevy. And not Shapiro, who'd been hit by Madrigal, who'd been hit by Cady, who'd been hit by the Chevy. Their own insurance companies would have to pay up.

State Farm had found a loophole big enough to drive a truck through. The driver was two months pregnant, and that had affected her diabetic condition, reportedly causing her to black out and drive into Cady's car. In a case of a "sudden medical emergency" such as this, the claims adjusters told a stunned Cady and Madrigal, State Farm wouldn't cover their costs. Because State Farm's driver wasn't negligent, adjusters claim.

If you are trying to sell a big-bang theory like this one, you would not want to pick Lew Cady or Natalie Madrigal as your marks. After hearing that State Farm wouldn't pay up and then thinking about how he'd not only be out his deductible (and eleven beers) but also driving a repaired car reduced in value, Cady started campaigning. He complained to State Farm and complained to his insurer, Allied Group, about State Farm. (Allied declines to discuss the case, but it can't be happy about its $13,000-plus tab, even if Cady does pick up the first $500.) And he stopped by the police department to drop off a request that the officer who'd been at the scene before Moore and interviewed the woman who'd witnessed "the erratic driving of the operator of the pickup truck" please contact him. "I desperately need the name of that witness," Cady wrote. He still does. In the meantime, he has a new mantra: "Insurance isn't."

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