A light, airy, effervescent, blog of grave consequence. (NOT!) Dedicated to those of us who must respond to negative stimuli by Chernobyling (entombing in concrete) our innermost thoughts.

Location: Slaughter, Louisiana, United States

A semi-gruntled corporate reliability engineer trying to make ends meet while keeping my wife happy, and myself out of the asylum.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Funniest thing I've heard in a long while.

On my ride home, listening to the news today, I heard this teaser for the local 6 o'Clock news.

New, unexpected side-effect from Viagra use.

Some men who use it are going blind.

Now THAT's comedy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Look out New York Parents. Set your blenders on Puree.

New York is looking to pass a law that would create a state department of choking hazards or something like that. Any food that they deem hazardous will have to be labeled as such and kids are probably not going to be allowed to eat it without supervision of an attending blender.

Now THIS is a way to get some of those 'poor' kids to lose weight.

Ahhhhh, The Poor Obese....

Fred Reed has another great take on American Society this week. Read it here.

There is no real poverty when the poor worry not about WHEN they will eat next, but WHAT they will eat next.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Oh, and by the way,

Michael Ross.

Burn in hell you MotherF-----.

It's about damned time. And I really hope that those weenie's fears that Ross's death would lead to a wave of suicides were warranted. We can always use a reduction in prison population by self destruction.

Gotta save money to lobby to keep the Sub Base open, ya know...

Man, Connecticut must be expensive or something.

When the Federal Government, specifically the Military, decides that it is too expensive to keep any personnel in your state, something is SERIOUSLY amiss.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Damn it feels good to be a gangsta...

I think I am the Anti-Nerd.

All of the hype lately about the film releases of "Hitchhikers guide to the Full Size Ford" and "Star Wars, Episode 72, Darth took his ball and went home", and, I have to confess I just DGAF.

I've always considered myself to be reasonably geeky. My favorite movie of all time is Mike Judge's, "Office Space". (It's playing on my 34" Sony Flat CRT as I type.) I love everything Quentin Tarrantino has ever done. (The Kill Bill saga shows him to be one of the greatest film makers in history.)

But I've never read any Tolkien. I've listened to some of the Middle Earth series on CD, but I've never found the time to care about it enough to read it. (Now, Clive Barker, or Brian Lumley, I've read about every word they've ever published.)

Currently I'm plowing through a text by John Lewis Gaddis. It's a history of the Cold War and why we won. Esoteric, yes. Geeky, No.

I haven't even watched an episode of ANY Star Trek series in more than 6 years. "Seconds from Disaster", "Megastructures", and "Modern Marvels" maybe, but no serials. (Other than NASCAR. And don't start with me about Michael Waltrip. David Greene deserved what he got.)

I'm not sure when it happened, but I guess I found a life.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Shtuff I Shouldn’t Know, Part 1

About ten months ago, July 3, 2004 to be exact, my wife and I were involved in a moderately serious automobile accident. We were out for a drive on a nice summer’s day in our 2002 Dodge Intrepid R/T. (One of only 1908 produced that year, the final year of R/T Intrepid production. This will become relevant later.). We were following in moderate traffic on a main back road when a Saturn 4-door flashed into my peripheral view from the left. I stomped the brake pedal to the floor and zigged as far left as possible while staying in my own lane. I made eye contact with the passenger in the Saturn at this point and she didn’t look too happy to see my big red Dodge barreling straight at her head. Luckily for her, I was able to aim at the Saturn’s passenger’s rear tire area instead of her door. I heard the impact for a split second and then I heard the shotgun blast of the airbags firing. At this point I could no longer see out the windshield but I managed to steer the car to the right away from the traffic in the oncoming lane. We rolled to a halt on the side of the road just past the intersection.

I performed the Sign-Of-The-Crosscheck. (Spectacles, Testicles, Cigars, Money.) Luckily, since I sit very reclined and far away from the steering wheel, the air bag hadn’t touched anything but my wrists. Noting that everything seemed to still be in working order, I checked on my wife who was obviously in pain. I calmed her down a bit because, not only does an airbag firing sound like a shotgun blast, it also smells like one and she thought the car was on fire because of the smoke and gun powder odor. She sits much straighter than I and had braced herself with her arms so when the airbag fired, she beat herself about the head and shoulders with her own hands.

At this point, I unbuckled my seatbelt, (which functioned perfectly I might add), and exited the car while screaming obscenities at the other driver involved. The gathering crowd, one of whom was an off duty cop who was driving the second car behind us in traffic at the time, corralled me away from the kid and started to check on my wife. They had already called the police, fire department and ambulance. I was told by the witnesses that as soon as the Saturn had spun to a halt, the kid, (19 years old, by the way) had started throwing beer cans into the trunk and the passenger I had graciously decided not to kill had taken off running.

I had hit the Saturn hard enough to spin it 270 degrees and slide it up the roadside embankment fast enough to fold the right front suspension and wheel completely under the engine. The ‘Trep’s front end was mushed in and the radiator was leaking, but the rest of the car was mainly intact. (I found out that the Dodge used orange antifreeze. That confused people who thought it might be a gas leak. I explained what it was and they calmed down.)

At this point the ambulance showed up and started attending to my wife.

The cops showed up and interviewed everyone present. They finally performed a sobriety test on the kid, which he promptly flunked. They cuffed him and while he was being perp-walked to the cruiser, a full can of beer fell out of his shorts onto the road. (Where he had hidden that so the cops missed it when they frisked him I can’t fathom.)

By this time, I just had to wait for the wrecker to drag my car away. They arrived and I hitched a ride home with them. Then I went to the hospital to check on my wife. She was released later that night with some minor injuries.

That is the background drama. The rest of this will outline what we went through starting the next day and ending when we settled with the kid’s insurance company.

The accident happened on a Saturday evening. The first mistake I made was not getting a copy of the police report or even the other driver’s information at the scene. Because of that oversight, we had to wait until Thursday of the following week to get the report from the police department records division.

On Wednesday of that week, my wife and I visited a local chiropractor because her back is iffy at best and I noticed that I couldn’t drive my car any longer without adjusting the seat differently than I had always set it. Second learning from this: The responsible insurance company will cover medical expenses for Chiropractic care, but you will require the testimony of an Orthopedist to have any shot at a serious injury claim. See an Orthopedist first.

When we finally received the police report, we found that the drunken teen, AKA “The Kid”, was found by the police to be totally at fault. We immediately called his insurance company to start the ball rolling. The insurance company representative was very polite. After receiving a copy of the police report, they sent us a letter claiming full responsibility for the accident. They immediately set us up with a rental car and we informed them of where our car would be repaired. We earlier had our car picked up from the tow company’s lot and transported about 40 miles to a repairer we like and have had good dealings with in the past. This is a critical step. It is your legal right to have any repairer you want fix your vehicle. You do not have to take the car where the insurance company directs you. So, get your car to a shop that you trust to fix it correctly.

After the insurance company’s adjuster and our repairer went back and forth a few times over the course of two weeks, they finally determine that, with $13,000 in damage, the ‘Trep was totaled. To total a car, the insurance company is looking for damage that amounts to about 80% of the vehicle’s current value. (Note here that there really wasn’t much damage to the car, BUT to replace the airbags in this car requires replacement of the entire steering column and a bunch of other stuff. So, if you pop the bags in a Dodge, the vehicle is effectively junk regardless of other damage.) Here is where the fun began.

When we purchased the car in March 2002, we were upside-down on our trade. We rolled the balance into the new loan and financed $34k on a car with an MSRP of just over $29k. Luckily, the dealer offered us a “Gap” insurance policy that cost a one-time extra $300 and was rolled into the car loan. Gap Insurance covers what is owed on a vehicle if the owner is upside-down on it when it is totaled. At the time of our accident we owed over $23k on the car and it had a retail value around $16k. The adjuster worked up an estimate and cut a check to the bank for $16,000.

I then made two erroneous assumptions that caused problems. First, I assumed that the bank would apply the partial payoff check as a standard payment. They did not. The payoff was applied to the back end of the loan and I still had a $600 payment due in two weeks as per normal arrangement. Second, I assumed that the Gap insurance was related to the actual loan through the bank and would automatically kick in when the bank was informed that the car was destroyed. I called the bank and the insurance adjuster to check on how that worked and both gave me incorrect information. Neither knew exactly how Gap worked. After waiting a few weeks and seeing no activity to pay off the loan, I called the bank again and was finally informed that the Gap policy must be with a third party because there was no record of Gap attached to the loan. (That would have been good information for the bank to give me right off the bat.)

In the middle of this, we had to purchase another vehicle because after the insurance company cuts you a check for payoff, you only get the rental car on their dime for about another week if they even let you keep it that long. We found a car, but, since the loan for the ‘Trep was still showing a balance of $23k on our credit, we ended up with a 12.8% interest rate on the new loan. Additionally, I now had three car payments to make because you have to keep the Gap loan current or they don’t have to pay it off.

Finally, I dug up the Gap paperwork and tried to contact the company. The contact number on the form was no longer working. Luckily, I was able to track the Gap company down via the internet. When I finally reached a live person, I had to send them all sorts of stuff to document the value of the car at the time of the accident. Original loan paperwork, Gap documents, extended warranty paperwork, window sticker to prove options, etc. It was at this point, about two weeks later, that they accepted the Gap claim and turned it over to one of their adjusters. Their adjuster started to go over the information he received from the kid’s insurance company and he found that the kid’s insurance company had not used the correct VIN to calculate the payoff value of the car. Thus began the most annoying portion of this saga.

As I stated in the beginning, the car was rather rare. So, when the kid’s insurance company ran the actual VIN through the ADP report there were not enough 2002 Intrepid R/T’s transacted recently in our area from which to develop an appropriate value. The kid’s insurance company’s adjuster instead substituted the VIN for an SE model and added in the R/T options manually. I didn’t know this at the time, because I was never given a copy of the ADP report to check the VIN. Learning: Always request a copy of the full 16+ page ADP valuation report and any other reports used to value your car and check them to be sure they’re accurate before agreeing to a settlement for your car. Factory options are the only one’s they’re going to include. You’ll have some convincing to do to get replacement value for your aftermarket/self-installed stuff.

Now began the twelve weeks of back and forth between the dueling adjusters so they could come to an agreement on true value before the Gap would agree to pay off the loan. In the middle of this, while I’m still paying $600 per month on top of my other two car loans, both adjusters took consecutive two-week vacations. We lost the entire month of September waiting for them to get back. Finally the kid’s insurance company’s adjuster agreed to increase his original value by $900 and the Gap then paid off the rest of the loan based upon what was originally owed on the date of the accident.

Unfortunately, I had coughed up $1800 in payments to keep the loan current during this period. $1200 of which was in the form of interest and fees that I subsequently lost when the loan was paid off. I realize that $1200 is better than $7000, but it still sucks that this kid cost me this much money. By this time it was mid-November and we had completed our chiropractic visits and were feeling much better.

I did speak with the kid’s insurance company’s adjuster’s supervisor about the Gap debacle. (How’s that for a plethora of possessives?) He told me that what should have happened was, the Gap company should have paid the loan off immediately and then gone after the kid’s insurance company to recoup the difference rather than drag it out and cost me a fortune. – Learning: Call your Gap insurance company and get them rolling before you even contact the at-fault insurance company. Then let them duke it out from the start. Don’t listen to the bank (unless the Gap is directly through them) or the at-fault insurance company. They don’t know how it works. Also, any extended warranty coverage you purchased for the car will be pro-rated by the Gap company and will reduce the amount they pay based upon the age of the car and value of the warranty that has been used. Save all your original loan documents. ALL OF THEM.

So, now the car is finally paid off, I’m out $1200, and we’re done with the medical treatment. The next step is for the insurance company to settle the actual out of pocket expenses related to the medical treatment. I don’t carry medical on my car insurance because, I figure, why pay for double insurance? Had I had auto-related medical, however, that policy would have covered all of the co-pays and deductibles without my having to pay them out of pocket. I wouldn’t have had to rack up the bills and wait to be reimbursed. That’s a personal choice. If you’re personal medical insurance is iffy, or you don’t have an extra thousand hanging around to cover co-pays for medical visits, I’d suggest the Auto-med. That choice is up to you.

What was painful about this step was getting the correct and complete records from the chiropractor and Emergency Room to the insurance company representative. Nearly nine weeks passed before the insurance company received all the right documents to pay off our out of pocket expenses. This payoff also included the lost workdays we incurred as well. I was out of work for a half day. It didn’t actually cost me anything, since I’m salaried, but it still counted toward the claim

We finally received that check. Then the end game started.

The final phase is compensation for “pain and suffering”. The total you’re likely to get for this for minor, non-permanent injuries like ours is about 1.5 times the value of all of the actual medical related charges. For example, if you added up all the values of the medical charges (not just the out of pocket stuff, but the full charges) for all services related to the accident including your lost work days, then multiplied by 1.5, this is about the maximum you can expect as a settlement.

Obviously, though, the insurance company is not going to start at that level. Their first offer was about 1X value. My immediate counter offer was 3X value. They got snippy and told me I’d better call a lawyer, so I did. The lawyer said that since there was no permanent injury he was surprised that the insurance company offered us anything. He also said that they wouldn’t take a case this small. So I waited about ten weeks before calling the insurance company back. I figure there has to be an audit process at these big companies that will flag accounts that should be closed. So the longer I wait, the more pressure the representative will be under to get the file closed by increasing the settlement offer.

Here is what I said when I left a message that final time: “Good evening. This is XXXX, Claim number YYYY. We have given our attorney time to go over everything and, given how long it will probably take to resolve anything if we choose to go that route, I’m hoping that we can reach an acceptable settlement amongst ourselves and get this off everyone’s outstanding ledgers. My major hang-up in the entire process is the $1200 in interest I lost while your company and the Gap company were wrangling over the final payoff. If there is any way to figure compensation for that into the final settlement, it would be greatly appreciated. Please contact me, at your convenience, to discuss the possibility of resolving this and putting the matter behind us.”

The next morning, I received a call from the insurance company. They raised their offer to 1.6X value and we accepted it and put an end to this mess. The $1200 I lost on the car was not, and will not be included in any of the “pain and suffering” calculations so if that happens to you, there’s not much you can do about it.

Here are some final learnings:

  • ABS sucks. I don’t feel that the R/T responded appropriately to the brake pedal input and I am certain that we hit that Saturn at a higher rate of speed than we would have if we had standard brakes.
  • If you think you’re really hurt, see an Orthopedist or Orthopedic surgeon. Chiropractic consultations will not hold up in court.
  • If you only have minor injuries, (Like ours), try to get as much as you can from the insurance company, but remember that not having a permanent disability is priceless.
  • It is your legal right to have any repairer you want fix your vehicle. You do not have to take the car where the insurance company directs you. So, get your car to a shop that you trust to fix it correctly.
  • Get receipts for EVERYTHING up front and save them all. Start a folder immediately after the accident. Keep every scrap that is even remotely related to the claim. It will take far less time for you to fax all your receipts to the insurance company than it will for them to go through channels and get the documents from the doctors and Emergency Room. Be prepared to call the doctors and insurance companies constantly to ensure that they are getting the information in a timely fashion. When trying to obtain documentation, the insurance company will leave a message for the doctor and then will wait two weeks before leaving another message. This tends to drag everything out.
  • Gap insurance is good. Coordinating with the Gap, Bank, and insurance company is a pain in the ass and can be expensive if not done expeditiously. Constant communication on your part to ensure that each entity is getting their required information is key to expediting the loan payoff.
  • Always request a copy of the full 16+ page ADP valuation report and any other reports used to value your car and check them to be sure they’re accurate before agreeing to a settlement for your car. Factory options are the only one’s they’re going to include. You’ll have some convincing to do to get replacement value for your aftermarket/self-installed stuff.
  • If you’re upside-down on your loan and don’t have a Gap policy, bend over. The insurance company is not responsible for anything beyond the actual value of your car.
  • Insurance company car valuation procedures vary, by law, from state to state. My state allows an Insurance company to use an average value based on the ADP valuation. This will not necessarily be a retail value either. The Gap company was in a different state where the valuation guidelines are significantly different. This caused considerable confusion. Find out exactly what your state laws allow and ensure that all parties understand the limitations.
  • Be prepared to cover an extra car payment while you are waiting for the Gap to pay your wrecked car off. A loan in default will not be covered by Gap. I had to cover three car payments for three months while this was being resolved.
  • Make sure that the Gap company has the correct loan value from the time of the accident. Get a full payment history from the bank and make sure that the Gap company understands it.
  • Don’t rush anything. If the insurance company accepts fault like the one we dealt with did, they want to you go away happy because then you won’t try to sue them. Time is on your side because the longer you wait, the more people at the insurance company will see that the account is not closed and start asking why. This can equal larger settlements. But, watch the statute of limitations for claims. This varies from state to state as well.
  • Adjusters are people too. Just because they are trying to screw you is no reason to get nasty. Stay civil in all dealings. Frustration and annoyance are OK. Name calling etc. is not.
  • I’m not a fan of the insurance industry. I believe that Insurance Companies should not have a profit motive. Their employees are ensuring their jobs by either actuarially screwing their customers or actively seeking to inhibit damages payouts to people victimized by their customers. Non-profit companies would not care so much as they wouldn’t have to respond to shareholder pressures.

Proving yet again that you don't have to be that bright to be an Animal Rights Whacko.

Dueling Wisconsin environmental groups are tied together at the wrists and prancing around like only Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim could have imagined. Story Here.

I'm on the side of the group that wants to install the windmills. Given that the mills rotate at about 30 RPM, it's probable that you could catapult a cow through the blades and miss them entirely.

The animal nuts seem to think that these mills will spontaneously turn into wind-powered bird-grinders and will wipe out the entire nesting population of waterfowl at a nearby wildlife sanctuary.

Aside: A Wind-Powered Bird-Grinder is not to be confused with the Log-Powered Meat-Grinder that was constructed by Texas A&M students in 1999.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Good thing he doesn't live in Florida

Brain-damaged man wakes up after ten years.

Monday, May 02, 2005

My take on bump-drafting

The media's in an uproar over the 25 car pile up that created some excitement at yesterday's Talledega race. All the drivers are whining that the only way to stop it is to remove the restrictor plates.

Now, while I'm all for cars going 230 MPH and flying into the spectator grandstands, I think I have a more workable solution.

Do what the NHRA is doing. Cheap-up the gas.

If Sunoco is the official fuel of NASCAR, start making the teams run pump-grade 87 octane unleaded (MTBE and all) at the superspeedways. That'll take a bit of power out of 'em. I'd love to be able to run 115 octane leaded on the street, but I can't. Why can they?