Choosing the Right Auto Insurer; New York State Issues Its Rankings


See full size image   The New York State Insurance Department has issued its  2009 rankings of complaints against auto insurers

Here are the top ten companies with the most complaints:

  1. Long Island Insurance Co.
  2. Countrywide
  3. White Mountain Group
  4. Tri-State Consumer
  5. American International Group
  6. Mercury General Group
  7. Commerce Group
  8. Utica National Insurance Group
  9. GMAC Insurance
  10. Kingsway Group (Lincoln General)

The State has also compiled a list of the insurers with fewest complaints:

  1. Adirondack Insurance Exchange
  2. Amica Mutual Group
  3. Main Street America Group
  4. QBE Insurance Group
  5. American Express Group
  6. Balboa Life & Casualty Group
  7. Electric Insurance Group
  8. Eveready Insurance Group
  9. Chubb & Sons
  10.  Erie Insurance Group
  11. Preferred Mutual Insurance Co. (a tie for 10th position)

After publishing this post on January 12th I received the comment below of Michael C. Austin, Vice President and Director of Corporate Communications, for Utica National Insurance Group, # 8 on the list of the carriers with the most complaints.  His comment, which has been reproduced under “Comments”, provides a cogent discussion of these lists from the viewpoint of the insurance industry.

To sum-up Mr. Austin’s comments,

  • The Insurance Department’s lists rank the auto insurers on the ratio of upheld complaints against premium volume.  
  • A small company either can be helped or hurt by the lists.  The small numbers involved in a relatively small company, such as Utica, make the ratio results volatile.  For example, in a previous year, there was only one  upheld complaint, and that resulted in Utica landing in the best ten list.  However, in 2009, there were four upheld complaints and a dip in premium volume.  As a result, Utica landed in the “ten worst companies.”
  • The complaints are formal complaints adjudicated before the Insurance Department.   Very few complaints get tried.  The lists should be read only in the context of upheld complaints against the premium volume.  The rankings say nothing about fairness in settling claims, promptness in payment, and general customer satisfaction. 
  • The so-called top ten and bottom ten lists should not be a factor for a consumer’s consideration in buying insurance.

Mr. Austin advised the following:

We would advise consumers to get recommendations from family and friends about an insurer, and also from their independent insurance agent, who represents a number of companies and is well-positioned to advise consumers on not only price but also their broad experience with the service and claims performance of the multiple number of carriers they represent–they’ve seen literally hundreds, even thousands, of claims and they know who does it well and who give the “cut-rate price and cut-rate service” * * *.

This is sound advice which we endorse.

 If you have been involved in an automobile accident, please feel free to call me for a free consultation  at 800-581-1434 or write to us at letters@seitelman.com.

Mark E. Seitelman, 1/12/10 (and revised 1/15/10), www.seitelman.com.

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4 Responses to Choosing the Right Auto Insurer; New York State Issues Its Rankings

  1. Regarding your blog — not to parse, but I believe there are some issues of both correctness and adequate context that I would ask you to consider. The NY auto insurance complaint rankings do not single out the “ten companies with the most complaints,” but rather rank the auto insurers based on a ratio, of upheld complaints to premium volume.

    The small numbers involved for our companies make the survey ratio results very volatile. In the previous year’s survey when we had one upheld complaint, we scored among the ten *best* complaint ratios. However, in the current rankings, with just four more upheld complaints and a dip in premium volume, the ratio calculation changed enough to put us in the bottom tier of complaint ratios! The volatility that a handful of complaints can make in the numbers is, I believe, one of the reasons that the State Insurance Department advises consumers, on the very first page of the report, to be sure to also consider other factors when choosing an insurance company.

    Also, there were two other things that your blog mentioned that, on a desultory reading, seemed like they were connected to the topic of the report or conclusions one could draw. You assert that “A good number of the complaints are for the simple failure to return multiple phone calls.” I did not find this to be represented in the survey — although I do realize very well that this may be written from the experience that you and your clients have had with some companies. Also the following statement that …”insurance companies with the lowest cost premium can be very difficult to deal to (sic) with for reimbursement for your own losses.   Sure, the premium is cheap, but watch-out if you have a claim!” This might also be true but it is a supposition, the survey does not compare premium rates with complaint volume.

    We would advise consumers to get recommendations from family and friends about an insurer, and also from their local independent insurance agent, who represents a number of companies and is well-positioned to advise consumers on not only price but also their broad experience with the service and claims performance of the multiple number of carriers they represent — they’ve seen literally hundreds, even thousands, of claims and they know who does it well and who gives the “cut-rate price and cut-rate service” to which you refer in your blog.

    For the record, our internal claim surveys, which take into account a much larger volume of claims, show us consistently at a 97-98% satisfaction rate among our customers and claimants. Not that we don’t strive for perfection or close to it — thus our great results in the Department’s previous survey, when we only had 1 upheld complaint — but I would ask that you consider more accurate language when referring to the top ten or the bottom ten companies in the survey, and ask that you advise consumers to take an overall look at an insurer when making a purchase decision.

    Thank you!

    Sincerely,

    Michael C. Austin
    Vice President and Director of Corporate Communications
    Utica National Insurance Group
    P.O. Box 530, Utica, NY 13503

    Email: michael.austin@uticanational.com

  2. Nice blog. You’re article was spot on. Will you be writing a follow up article up on this? I’ve bookmarked your page.

    • Thank you.

      I write on insurance from time to time. As well as representing people injured in accidents (which is the emphasis of our firm), we also represent insureds suing their insurance companies for coverage, benefits, etc.

      Our blog will be revamped by the end of the week. Watch for our revised format.

  3. Quite possibly the most succinct and current info I came across about this subject. Sure pleased that I discovered that site by accident. I’ll probably be subscribing for your feed so that I will get the most current updates.

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