Dealing with BoatUS (part three)

My attorney asked more patience from me when giving BoatUS three business days to respond to his letter. Patience is not a virtue I was born with, and frankly I’m not sure how many people naturally have it. It’s a theory of mine that most people just mask their impatience better than others. Three business days meant that the actual number of days that passed was five, as a weekend butted itself into the middle. Attorneys, such as Isaac, are all about following procedure, establishing written records and accounts of what happened when, should the issue ever need to be taken further, say to court. I understood his reasons, followed them, and continued to live in my boat, such as it was.

As I alluded to in the previous post, fellow bloggers took my issue to heart and spread it. If you had Googled “BoatUS reputation” that week (and you still can), the Middle Bay Sailing blog comes up on the first page, a blog which discussed my situation and linked back to my own blog. Other bloggers also headlined my story, but Middle Bay Sailing, by how the post was worded, got attention from BoatUS personally.

I had told Isaac, my attorney, that I was blogging about the situation and sticking to the facts and my feelings. I’d refrained from speculation and hadn’t made threats. What had happened and how I felt were all relevant to my tale, and I felt others should know about what was going on, should something like this happen to them.

When week three rolled around, so did the deadline for BoatUS to respond to my attorney. And they did. But it wasn’t my adjuster who responded. No, no, the vice president of the claims department responded. The VP of claims also contacted Rick of Middle Bay Sailing telling him (but addressing me) that BoatUS was working on my claim as quickly as possible.

My attorney called me in the afternoon and let me know that the VP had sent him a letter and called him, telling him they were working on my claim as quickly as they could. The VP said that BoatUS had just received the surveyor’s report regarding the damage, value, and recommended solution for my boat, and they were working on the settlement. She also told my attorney: “Courtney’s quite the writer.”

Isaac was impressed. The power of the pen is a mighty one, especially when it takes a few clicks to spread the story to a plethora of other people. I was impressed too, and if I could afford it, I’d shower all of you with an endless supply of chocolates and espresso. To aid in the negotiation process, and knowing that BoatUS was reading what I was writing, Isaac advised me to make a quick, short post about being in contact with BoatUS.

Negotiations began

BoatUS decided, per the surveyor’s report, that my Islander was a total loss. Repairing the damage to the boat cost more than what BoatUS deemed its value. BoatUS’s first offer of a settlement was to allow me to keep the boat and send me a check for the boat’s value. At the time I had desperately hoped to repair the boat, and though I appreciated that I got to keep my own boat (sarcasm), the dollar value of its worth would not be sufficient to make repairs and allow me to stay in hotel while repairs were being made. Isaac then sent a counter offer, pointing out that the report the surveyor had submitted did not explain how the numerical value of my boat was reached, and we sent along a comparable of my Islander’s sister ship for sale in Ladysmith, BC. My boat had newer features and a diesel engine, so we contended that my boat was worth what the sister ship was worth, if not more. He also wrote that if we were taking this issue to court, we’d argue my boat was not a total loss, based on the comparable boat, but for the sake of litigation purposes, we’d accept the total loss in exchange for a better settlement. We asked for a higher amount.

Sorry, I’m not going to give numbers.

BoatUS counter-offered, raising their initial number a little. Isaac and I discussed it, and we decided to counter again. But BoatUS was firm on their offer, they wouldn’t go a dime over.

I wanted the issue over and done with (and I still do, by the way). Isaac advised I accept the offer and thus be done with the settlement and BoatUS. I did.

Allow me a brief commentary on business. A business, if it is to be a business, must do two things, and the two things are interchangeable: make a profit, do their job. In order to make a profit, they must do their job, and doing their job makes a profit. Simple. Exceptional businesses do both well: do a great job and make a lot of profit (I’d say to have one you must have the other, but that’s just me).

Insurance companies make their money by playing a number lottery and taking risks. In order for them to make a profit, they must have more customers paying and not withdrawing. It’s the nature of their business, and I get that. The most profitable insurance company is one whose members are responsible and lucky, in that they never cause or are involved in accidents. The more of these people they have, the more money insurance companies make. However, based on my simple formula of what it takes to be a business, a business must also do its job, and for an insurance company, that means insuring its customers: paying for the accident.

That makes insurance companies a different kind of business; in order for them to make a greater profit, they have to do their job less.

Did BoatUS do a good job?

Reaching a settlement and receiving a check in three weeks is fast, I’ve never denied that. But what made it fast was my quickness to write about it and my attorney’s involvement. Throughout the process I had friends and internet-strangers/cheerleaders encouraging me to not back down. There was never a danger of that happening.

BoatUS did their job of covering their insured and paying for the accident, but that’s as far as they went. They covered the adjusted value of the boat, and let me keep my own vessel, presumably to continue living on it, have it repaired, or salvage it, whatever I chose to do. Would they have done the same if they’d only dealt with me or my insurance adjuster and not my attorney? Would they have made the same offer had I not taken to the internet and made myself one loud and obnoxious squeaky wheel? I’m not sure, but I doubt it.

Was BoatUS ever responsible for the stress the accident caused me? By the numbers, no, they were not. During this entire ordeal, plenty of backseat attorneys chimed in with what the insurance company should cover:

  • lodging
  • food while being lodged
  • loss of productivity and thus wages lost
  • loss of use

Those things were never covered by BoatUS, nor do I think they’re legally obliged to cover in the case of a total loss. If the boat had been saved and then repaired, then yes, BoatUS would probably be responsible for my lodging while the boat was up on blocks. But nothing else.

Had I wanted to spend the time, stress, and money on filing a lawsuit to cover the above losses that Mr. Rammer incurred by his striking and totaling of my vessel, in theory I may have recovered those losses, but at what cost? Would it be worth all of that? Would dragging out this whole ordeal have been in anyone’s best interest?

It is impossible for most people to separate their emotions from the destruction of their property, especially their home. I kept as level a head as I could by staying busy, by moving the process forward. I was not content to sit and wait. Since my total loss was not a car, but someplace I spend every day aboard, I couldn’t afford to wait for the insurance company to twiddle their thumbs and wait for reports and run calculations. I had to make things happen, and happen they did.

My advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation is to:

  1. Be pushy. Don’t wait to be called, call first. After your first initial call, then insist that all communication be done in writing.
  2. Keep a written record of everything: things said, when, by whom. Keep all emails. Be as detailed as possible.
  3. Take photos.
  4. Choose a boatyard to put together an estimate for you, do not let the insurance company tell you what your repairs will cost or what your boat is worth.
  5. If you chose to let your own insurance company handle it, that’s of course your choice, and it has advantages, mainly that you won’t have to deal with the other insurance company personally. However, I’m not sure how urgent anyone other than you, the person who’s property was hit, would act. Having had a car totaled (by a teenager with passengers in her car and thus not paying attention to what was happening in front of her), I know that even dealing with your own insurance company to get things resolved can be just as much of a nightmare.
  6. If you feel like the insurance company is dragging their feet, hire an attorney, and hire one the moment you feel you should. Do not wait. I recommend Isaac.
  7. Do your own research by finding comparable boats in your area. Insurance companies make their money by paying less, so it’s up to you to find real prices on real boats that compare to yours IN YOUR AREA!
  8. Respect the power of the pen. It’s impressive, especially nowadays. I knew exactly what I was doing when I started thumping the internet with my tale of destruction, and had I felt it necessary, would have contacted bigger sailing sites and blogs, to get my story spread faster. The internet is full of stories of how people had something valuable stolen and hopped on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to amass an army of people who wanted to help. It works.

Thus ends my story of how I dealt with BoatUS. Once I had the check and deposited the money, the story was over. BoatUS is done with their settlement. Of course my boat ramming situation is far from over. If you have a question, something that wasn’t covered in parts one, two, or three, please ask it in the comment section and I’ll try answering as best I can.

Thanks and Recommendations

In addition to Isaac Anderson, I also recommend the great people of CSR Marine. They do fantastic work, and had I the time and money to have my Islander repaired, I would’ve taken her to CSR. Great, patient, thorough folks over there, and good to work with. The sailors and salts both on the Sailnet and Sailing Anarchy forums were also fantastic, offering advice, jokes, and pearls of wisdom.

By Courtney

Courtney Kirchoff is a published novelist, graphic designer, dog and horse lover, and lots of other (hopefully good) things. She lives in the greater Puget Sound area in Washington State with her lovable shelties, Riley and Margo.

7 comments

  1. Mixed feelings, here. I’m happy that you got a “rapid” settlement, but disappointed that it didn’t go far enough towards real compensation.

    My interpretation of your account is that BoatUS took care of business, but didn’t really do the “right thing.” If they had done the right thing, you would be completely satisfied with the settlement. Please correct me if I’m misrepresenting your conclusions.

    What you relate matches my expectation for insurance companies, who in the recent decade have become much less willing to fulfill their commitments, but never hesitate to take your premiums.

    1. Now that I’m looking for other boats, and I’ve been living in my state of a home for six weeks, there really isn’t any other way to say it: this sucks. BoatUS did what they were supposed to do, but were not obligated to do much else. That’s been my experience with insurance companies too. I can always tell when someone’s never had to deal with an accident, they say they love their insurance company! Wait until you have to file a claim, that’s when you find out how good they are or not. Some are decent, some are crap. I guess it’s all relative.

  2. Congratulations on your success in pushing to get the matter resolved, and thank you for posting the detailed account of your experience!
    It shouldn’t require a PR hit and executive involvement to process a claim of this sort.
    Given that’s what it took to get their attention, and the time it took them to move from that point on, it doesn’t sound like the BoatUS insurance program is ready for prime time. Makes me think again about whether to renew my tow insurance with them this fall.

  3. I have only had dealings with really large insurance companies for automobile crashes. I have caused exactly 2 crashes in 47 years of driving and the most recent in 2007 was the expensive one, the repairs to the other vehicle exceeded repair of mine at $900 to repaint a bumper. However I have been hit over a dozen times of which 3 were injury crashes with one being a major injury crash. I was insured with the largest auto insurance company in the nation at that time. After 13 months of legal actions and negotiations I accepted a settlement for about half what I felt should have been paid for a permanent disability. Within 5 days that company attempted to cancel all our policies with prejudice but I had already reinsured with another company with the 2 notifications crossing in the mail so their attempt to make my premiums skyrocket failed. I learned several things from that experience, do not expect a large national insurance company to care about your claim, do not expect any form of reasonable respect from them, do not expect much at all expect for payment for your cars damages. I have since switched to small regional or single state companies although that is getting harder to locate these days. We now own a 33 foot cruising sailboat insured with BoatUS. I feel we have all the types of coverage we need and also have the flexibility to add coverage if we expect to be aboard the boat a lot. But we also have a blanket insurance policy covering us for millions in possible losses. This is my best solution for dealing with the gamble against something destructive happening to us or our boat. I also hope that I never find out. I did have a boat become a total loss after a violent midwestern storm(tornado) that was insured locally. I actually had to keep them from overpaying me in the settlement which was reached without lawyers becoming involved. I was very pleased but that was a much smaller 26 footer with no one on board, no belongings onboard, nothing but the basic structure involved. My most recent car injury claim from ’98, well after the big one, was against AIG and out of all my dealings with insurance companies that was the absolute worst, say a .5 on a scale of 1 to 10. I can completely understand what you have been through with your Islander and my sympathy goes out to you. I think we owners of boats that can be lived aboard are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to insurance. I think BoatUS is our best choice and that they are a level above many of the other companies that can take over a year to settle a claim.
    Alan W.

  4. So what’s next? Are you looking for a new boat / home? What will become of your Islander? (I noticed you’re not referring to her as Libby now)

  5. I think another piece of advice is to have an insurance policy on your boat that is a Yacht Policy which is an agreed value policy. thus you know the extent of your coverage before the accident happens. My insurance company paid off fully and fairly after the snowstorm of 1997.

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