The Friendly Ties of United

Gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher has been linked to the shady insurance firm for almost a decade

In July 2005, a Miami-Dade judge called the roughly 10,000 United Auto cases languishing in the courts "mind-boggling."

Despite the New Times investigation last fall, Gallagher's DFS still doesn't see a problem with United Auto's tactics. In an e-mail response to questions concerning the company's practices, Tami Torres, a DFS spokesperson, wrote that the number of complaints received about United in 2005 was just under 600, slightly more than the number received on two other "nonstandard" insurers, which means they target high-risk drivers.

As far as Gallagher's looking into United Auto, Torres raised the same Catch-22 voiced by DFS staffers last fall. "Gallagher's office does not have the statutory authority to do market conduct examinations, which investigate a company's practices," she wrote. That would be up to McCarty's Office of Insurance Regulation. (McCarty's office wouldn't comment on whether it's investigating United.) The DFS' online homepage, however, lists as one of the agency's responsibilities the investigation of insurance fraud.

Tom Gallagher, the man who would be governor
Tom Gallagher, the man who would be governor

Of course, Gallagher is interested in the subject of fraud, Torres quickly added. "With respect to reporting and investigating fraud, CFO Gallagher is pursuing rules and legislation outlining stricter requirements for insurance companies to report insurance fraud and calling for penalties for failure to report fraud."

Now that's the kind of enforcement that United Auto can get behind.

On the other hand, those who do battle with United Auto over claims are still waiting for an ounce of consumer protection from the CFO-who-would-be-governor.

In late 2004, Alex Barak, a Hollywood attorney who has represented scores of policyholders burned by United, wrote a complaint to the chief financial officer.

"Mr. Gallagher, what is the purpose of complaint against an insurance carrier if we do not see any action taken?" he wrote. "Why is it that when people commit crimes against the insurance companies, it gets significant publicity, yet when insurance companies commit fraud against the public who have legitimate claims, no one cares?"

Having received no response, Barak wrote again last year. "Is your office blind and deaf to the crisis involving United Automobile Insurance Company?"

Maybe he needs to buy some radio ads to be heard.

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