Over the past two years, hundreds of motorists have alleged a Chicago-based auto insurance company has systematically denied claims and refused to pay people whose cars were damaged in accidents caused by its customers.
Unique Insurance, based in Chicago's Portage Park neighborhood, is a non-standard insurer that does a relatively low volume of business but earns a high volume of complaints. It is tied for the second-highest total of consumer complaints for the last two years and also holds an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Consumers who've tried to deal with Unique in getting claims resolved tell stories of frustration, dead-ends and getting the run-around.
Ghiath "Gus" Hammoud drives a limo for a living. When a Unique-insured driver hit him in Evanston last June, he said that driver immediately admitted she was trying to squeeze past his car to make a light. Hammoud said the woman was ticketed in the accident -- which he thought would make getting his claim paid smooth-sailing. Not so much.
"I called every single week [and got the] same answer," Hammoud said of Unique's unwillingness to give him any answers about the damage on his car. "I told them I have the police report, but I don't think it matters to them. What matters to them is just giving you the runaround."
Hammoud waited two months before getting Unique's answer: a denial, "based on conflicting statements from the parties."
"Conflict?!" Hammoud said in amazement. "What conflict? Of course she's not going to say she's guilty!"
Hammoud says Unique never bothered to look at the Evanston police report, which clearly states their driver was at fault. Unique also declined to answer any of NBC5 Investigates' questions on Hammoud's case.
The company did have to answer to state authorities in 2004 and 2008, when the Department of Insurance conducted a Market Conduct Exam and subsequent re-examination. The state cited Unique for multiple violations of state regulations. The company paid $30,000 in its most recent case. Last year, the company took in $31M in direct written premium payments.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientists to figure out that one," former insurance industry insider and current consumer advocate Mark Romano said, of the non-standard insurance model in general. "You're taking in premiums and paying out as little as you can? It's a win-win for them."
Romano says non-standard insurers fill a void in the industry, often insuring the highest-risk drivers. But he is also not surprised a company like Unique is at the top of the state consumer complaint lists.
"They collect the premium and they resist at all costs on paying out on the claims, until they're forced to by a judge, arbitrator, etc.," Romano said.
In response to NBC5 questions, the president of Unique Insurance Company, Matthew J. Dutkanych, issued the following statement last week:
"Due to the nature of our business, we typically cannot discuss any client situation publicly. Our relationships are built on trust and Unique Insurance has a fiduciary duty to safeguard this trust and the clients' privacy.
Unique Insurance prides itself on providing a high level of service to its insured clients as well as claimants. We do our best to maintain this standard in handling each and every claim daily. Moving forward, we will continue to build on this foundation in our efforts to reach a "Gold Standard" level of service.
Thank you again for providing this opportunity, we know you understand our policy and hope you will comply with keeping our clients' privacy at the forefront of your report."
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