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Free money, free money: Bottom feeders put Internet data and Google maps together for fishing expeditions
Why chase ambulances when you can make mountains out of a molehill by combining data gleaned from the Internet with Google Maps?

Why, you ask, is insurance so high?

One answer came to me in the mail last week from Glendale.

It referenced a house fire on Yolo Street a block away from where I live in the Powers Tract neighborhood sandwiched between Manteca High and Spreckels Park.

The fire happened in the evening hours on a Saturday.

It was one of 385,000 house fires that occur in an average year in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association,

As house fires go, is wasn’t on the spectacular side.

It did damage to the home and a plume of smoke was visible.

My home and property was far from being in danger.

That’s because our collective tax dollars were at work.

Manteca Fire Department did their job and protected the public’s health and safety.

At least I thought they did.

That was until a firm fishing for clients advised me my property “may have been contaminated by the smoke produced by your neighborhood structure fire” on Aug. 6, 2022.

“It goes on state “these smoke contaminants are typically finer than a human hair and invisible to the naked eye due to its microscopic nature. They may have corrosive content that can discolor your property’s surface, damage your ducts, circulate in your home, and cause adverse health conditions without proper mitigation.”

The mailer urged me to reach out to them for a free consultation. They shared if their advisors proceed with “your case we will represent you with zero upfront costs, and only get paid if we’re successful securing a financial reward.”

Note the mailer doesn’t talk about being compensated for loses and damages. Instead, it dangles the telling phrase “financial reward” in bold letters.

They even included a QR code I could scan to schedule a free, no-obligation on-site inspection.

Then they listed settlement amounts they got for other “homeowners like you” that ranged from $30,257.85 to $37,502.04,.

And if the promise of free money doesn’t trigger your sense of greed, they add three ominous photos on the bottom.

They are of char spheroids, magnified 10,000 times and black carbon magnified 100,000.They are scary looking but then again so would the pores of a beauty queen if they were magnified 100,000 times.

The firm clearly combines Google Map style technology harnessed with  they glean on fires to target homes within a block or so of an incident.

It explains how they got my address.

That said, they were so concerned about my health and potential loss that they didn’t bother to research who owned the property or even lived here. Hence, the addressee that simply reads “resident.”

That may sound a bit reactionary, but if the Yolo Street fire was truly a public heath catastrophe, they would have been a little more diligent in their research  than just allowing artificial intelligence out one and one together to get two.

At least ambulance chasers don’t ply their craft in a complete, impersonal vacuum.

If they was really something there beyond the fact that fires from the beginning of time put off carcinogens and such that can discolor property and impair health when done in a large enough amount and over a long enough time, they could have at least tried to find out my name.

That, of course, would spending more resources than justified.

What they are doing is simply casting a wide net on a quick pass through.

If they can snag enough takers motivated by free money or who can convince themselves a rather pedestrian house fire where the structure didn’t come close to burning down is the major contributing factor to a current health problem, then they are in business.

Of course, they may have to make on-site inspections but only after they have enough critical mass to pose an expensive problem for insurance companies.

Freely, translated they are looking for cases where the insurance  company — even though it is extremely likely to prevail in the end — will settle instead.

It’s a cost of doing business

Here is how it works. An insurance company rejects claims that they believe are unfounded. The claim – or claims — then moves to the next step of a lawsuit being filed.

Ar that point the insurance company weighs its exposure.

It now becomes a dollar decision between the cost of fighting the lawsuit in court and the odds of a jury not ruling in the insurance company’s favor. If the potential exposure from a court outcome far exceeds the expense of defending it, the insurance company may opt to settle for a smaller amount.

This clearly doesn’t happen in all cases.

But the game has been played enough that “claim recovery companies” working with lawyers or lawyers outright are willing to roll the dice.

It is why spending $50 or less a shot in the dark as the Glendale company did to fish for takers with their mailer regarding the fire in my neighborhood

My first exposure to those playing insurance claim roulette in hopes of hitting a pay day was back in 1976 when I was serving on the Western Placer Unified School District board in Lincoln, Placer County.

It involved parents of a special needs student that had was being denied privilege of attending graduation ceremonies with his senior class as he was failing to meet minimal state standards due to chronic absences that weren’t excused

The parents filed a $15,000 lawsuit against  the school board for duress that led to the loss of “consortium”. That is a legalese way of saying the husband and wife weren’t able to have conjugal intercourse due to the stress the district’s decision allegedly placed on their marriage.

The district’s insurance company wanted to settle for $7,00.

I was able to convince fellow trustees to say no to the settlement.

The next meeting a lawyer from the insurance company met with us in a closed door session to explain the facts of life, litigation style.

He said if we decided to fight the lawsuit and not settle that the insurance firm would vigorously defend the district in court and that we’d likely would win.

But because they determined it would cost them easily $20,000 in legal costs to do so, they prefer to reduce their losses by settling for $7,000.

So, if we refused to settle and went to court instead and even if we won, the insurance company would cancel our coverage when the renewal date rolled around.

That’s because they wouldn’t want a district as a client that refused to follow their advice made on fiduciary decisions that would increase their exposure

And since the district’s insurance was cancelled, other potential firms would seek out the reason why. That in turn would mean a new carrier — assuming the district was able to get a firm to cover the district at that point — would charge significantly more in premiums.

Peggy Lee was wrong.

A house burning down and firefighters packing up and leaving isn’t all there is to a fire.

All sorts of deadly things arise from the ashes including opportunistic claim recovery services.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at