Dennis BeaverJune 1, 2021 • By Dennis Beaver

If your auto insurance is with State Farm, today’s story will both make you angry and chuckle at the same time. As you will see, the way in which a State Farm claims adjuster treated 21-year-old Allison Ashbrook of St. Louis, Missouri — and their own insured who caused the accident — is not only shameful, but puts the “B” in blackmail.

As Allison explained:

“On May 4, I drove into the Jack in the Box parking lot on Telegraph Road in St. Louis headed toward the drive-through window, when the passenger side of my car was smashed by a vehicle backing out of a parking space so suddenly that I was unable to react.

“I never saw lights or movement before the impact occurred. Both passenger-side doors were badly dented and the side-mirror was knocked off.”

She sent photos with repair estimates, which ran from $4,000 to $5,000. Allison isn’t claiming injuries. All she wants is to get her car fixed. You would think that a claims adjuster would respect that, right?

Wrong. You haven’t met State Farm claims adjuster Aharon Espino.

Both cars parked, and the parties exchanged information. The driver at fault is Patrick Gilfoy who, ironically, is the owner and only instructor at West County Driving Instruction in St. Louis. His website proudly states, “My instruction takes place behind the wheel with one-on-one training, [including] parking lots … .”

(I can just imagine his lecture on backing out of parking spaces. “First, put on this blindfold and your car into reverse, say a prayer that no one is behind you, and floor it!”)

“Mr. Gilfoy was very polite and immediately apologized, admitting that he did not look before backing. Even though there were three police officers about 100 feet from our position, he did not want to get a police report,” Allison said.

Odd. Three police officers standing right there and Patrick does not want a police report?

“I reported the incident immediately to his insurance company, State Farm. The following day they called, took my statement and shortly thereafter adjuster Aharon Espino sent me a letter stating, ‘You were 25% at fault for inattention and failing to take evasive action.’

“I was told that unless I accepted their decision as to my percent of fault, they would not discuss property damage! Also, Espino’s letter referred to California Insurance Regulations! I wondered, “Does he know that St. Louis is about 2,000 miles from California?”

(I need to send Aharon a copy of Professor Beaver’s book, “North American Geography for State Farm Adjusters.”)

Allison — justifiably — felt blackmailed. “It was either admit fault or forget my property damage! That is so wrong, how can State Farm treat people that way?” she wondered.

I did too, yet, despite her authorization to discuss this case with me, State Farm’s spokesperson, Sevag Sarkissian, has stonewalled. But he acknowledged that holding property damage issues hostage is wrong, writing:

“Liability decisions are not a pre-cursor to working with a customer to help them present their claim. Having an estimate prepared may also assist in further understanding how the loss occurred on an individual claim.”

And then, guess what? When Allison fully complied with State Farm’s request to send photos and repair estimates, it was time to punish her by saying, we are going to total your car, not repair it. They offered her $1,700. I checked with dealers across the country and CarFax; all show the value of her car close to $5,000 in today’s hot used car market.

Small claims court next?

“I don’t want to, but am prepared to take Mr. Gilfoy to small claims court. That will probably make headlines: ‘Driving School Instructor Sued for Parking Lot Accident,’ she said.

An insurance bad faith attorney gives her opinion

“Saying, ‘I need to agree to your determination before we discuss property damage,’ is not only bad faith but vexatious refusal to settle as well,” says St. Louis attorney Cassie J.C. Bugalski.

“This would put State Farm in violation of Missouri law and not representing their insured as well by not protecting his interest so he is not sued. They have harmed him and he has the right to sue them for it. I find it comical that they think they can do this but it doesn’t surprise me with State Farm. We’ve filed suit against several insurers for similar behavior.”

California insurance bad faith attorney Dan Veroff agrees with his Missouri colleague, and says:

“State Farm commonly acts like this and it disgusts me every time I watch a State Farm commercial, because they spend so much money lying to you. Your article will help counter the message that State Farm is a good company because they are not. They are one of the worst.”

I left voice mails for Patrick, urging him to get his lawyer involved and tell State Farm to get the matter settled so that he isn’t sued.

The other sad part of this story is how badly it reflects on the many good, honest and decent State Farm agents across the country, many who have helped me with this column across the years. They have become victims as well.

Stay tuned.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.