Katherine Shea, an 83-year-old widow in excellent health, had worked hard all her life to achieve security and happiness in retirement. An inspiration to her family, she was an embodiment...
Kay’s life changed forever on August 3, 2011 and the list of Kay’s injuries from that day is extensive. Doctors were forced to insert numerous pins, screws and plates onto her bones...
As human beings, we hold within us powerful and meaningful narratives about our experiences that provide insight into the complex world around us. The story of Kay Shea is a perfect example of such a narrative that compels us to dig deeper into the inner-workings of insurance companies and their tactics to avoid paying claims. “The Iron Lady” was brought to the screen in order to create awareness about insurance company bad behavior, by telling a story about how the pursuit of profit took precedence over the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of one woman after enduring a tragic accident that was not her fault.
Take the time to watch the film and engage with the supplemental information on this website. As consumers, we need to educate ourselves about how insurance really works and call into question the practices of the companies we pay our premiums to. It is upon us to start local, talk to our insurance agents about the fine print, write to our state representatives, and share this link in the hope that someone at a state or federal level will see the film and feel inspired to be a catalyst for change.
Katherine Shea, an 83-year-old widow in excellent health, had worked hard all her life to achieve security and happiness in retirement. An inspiration to her family, she was an embodiment of the American Dream. She was living the life that she and her late husband had envisioned for her, enjoying her gardening and the company of friends and family. Her life suddenly changed on August 11, 2011, when a 17-year-old driver in an SUV crossed the highway centerline outside of Sullivan, Missouri. and smashed into her Ford Taurus. Mrs. Shea was returning home from a doctor's appointment, where she had been found to be in good health. She was driving westbound on I-44 North Outer Road. She was rounding a curve when the approaching SUV crossed into her lane. Mrs. Shea attempted to swerve out of the way, but the oncoming vehicle struck her car head-on.
The impact crushed Mrs. Shea's vehicle and caused extensive trauma to her body. As photos taken on the day of the accident reveal, her badly mangled sedan had to be cut apart to remove her from the wreckage.
There is no dispute that the driver of the SUV, was at fault. He told the investigating state trooper, “There was a big dog or something in the road. I was on the wrong side of the road and then all of a sudden she was there.” Mrs. Shea told the investigating trooper,
The 17-year-old boy was transported to a local hospital where he was treated for minor injuries and released. Mrs. Shea was treated on the scene by paramedics and airlifted to St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in Creve Coeur, Missouri, where she received care for numerous contusions, abrasions and broken bones.
The list of Mrs. Shea's injuries from that day is extensive. Doctors were forced to insert numerous pins, screws and plates onto her bones in an effort to repair the damage. They described her survival as nothing less than a miracle.
“She sustained multiple orthopedic injuries and required multiple surgical procedures and repairs, many of which required placing metallic hardware," Dr. Margaret Murphy of Mercy Skilled Nursing Facility wrote on January 1, 2012. "Specifically, Katherine required repairs using hardware at the left ankle, the left hip, the left elbow and right knee.” Following the accident, Mrs. Shea suffered from loss of bowel and bladder control, poor balance, anorexia, limited endurance and short-term memory loss from a traumatic brain injury. She suffered fractures of her legs, hip, feet, knee, arm, elbow, ankles, toes, fingers and ribs. Her skin was torn off of her left foot, which is now disfigured and scarred, causing a “drop foot” and immobility.
After spending more than five months in medical facilities and receiving $800,000 in hospital bills, Mrs. Shea remains wheelchair bound, except for short walks using a walker. The disabilities she sustained in the accident will be with her for the rest of her life. It took her months of physical therapy to learn to use a walker for very short distances. Her ankles remain painfully swollen and her long-term prognosis calls for little improvement.
While Mrs. Shea survived the collision, she is unable to perform the routine tasks of daily living. She needs help dressing and showering. She cannot prepare her meals. Even very simple tasks, such as getting a glass of water or preparing a cup of tea, require assistance.
Mrs. Shea was in remarkably good health prior to the accident. She had the energy and mental alertness of a much younger woman. Her neighbors recall that she routinely mowed her own lawn and did her own gardening. She was independent and active. This vibrant woman lived alone in a tri-level home.
Although she never will walk again without assistance, her biggest disappointment is that she never will be able to drive again. This represents a loss of independence. Mrs. Shea has been forced to move in with relatives in Spokane, Washington. She also has been forced to sell the home she loved in Sullivan, Missouri.
Mrs. Shea's nephew Dan Shea, who lives in San Diego, by agreement many years earlier with his uncle, is primarily responsible for her economic and health (decisions) well-being. Dan also has a brother and a sister who assist with her welfare. Dan Shea has strived to negotiate a settlement for his aunt’s case. In early talks with Farmers Insurance representatives, Mr. Shea said his only goal was to make sure his aunt had the best quality of life possible going forward. In a disappointing response to a simple question, a Farmer's representative said, "Your aunt is not our problem, our insured is our problem."
That comment set the tone for the difficulties that were to come.
Farmers representatives initially refused to discuss or explain the level of insurance coverage available to compensate Mrs. Shea. This stonewalling approach continued for months. The Shea family felt ignored as it attempted to make plans for Mrs. Shea's future. The family had hoped to settle Mrs. Shea's claim themselves, without having to hire attorneys.
The family finally was told by Farmers that there was a policy limit of $1.5 million available for this claim. Despite this revelation, the insurance company continued to refuse to negotiate, and the Sheas felt compelled to hire legal representation. Eventually, the family learned the amount of total insurance coverage available was actually $3.5 million. This information was discovered after hiring lawyers to assist with the case.
From that point on Farmers engaged in a series of delaying tactics, designed to wear the Shea family down.
It's sad to think what can happen to people of limited means who don't have family members who can take care of them and pay their bills while insurance companies delay negotiations in hopes that the injured party will die.
The failure to reach a settlement has sent Mrs. Shea into a deep depression. She says she feels as if she is caught up in a nightmare that will never end. Attorneys who represent Mrs. Shea now believe that Farmers is playing a classic game of delay. Farmers representatives likely believe that the claim will cost them less if they wait until Mrs. Shea dies of the injuries their client inflicted upon her. Fortunately, Mrs. Shea has a strong will to live. She is determined not to die before her claim is settled.
"I want my life back, as it was before," Mrs. Shea says. "I want to be in my own home. I want to do my own gardening. I want to cut my own lawn. I want to visit my friends. I want independence. Before this accident, I did not have health issues. I did not have any physical disabilities. I lived in a tri-level house by myself. My husband and I had worked a lifetime to prepare for a debt-free retirement so we would be dependent on no one.
"Since the accident, I have experienced the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my lifetime," she continues. "I live in fear: fear of pain, fear of being dependent on others, fear of financial security, fear of falling and ending up in a nursing home, fear of the unknown. I want my life back as close to what it was before this accident as possible. I want to end this discussion with people I don’t even know who are arguing over what I should or shouldn’t get, and how long I might live, and how little they can get away with compensating me."
In rural Missouri, the amount of money typically awarded to people in injury accidents is not large. For this reason, and, because by Missouri law the jury is not allowed to know how much insurance is available, the family believes the insurance companies feel they are in a better position to save money by going to trial. The family’s position has become one of “so be it.” This is more about justice at this point than about money, and this case can help expose how insurance companies operate.
The accident that left Mrs. Shea disabled and in chronic pain in mid-2011 cannot be undone, but she is entitled to fair and reasonable compensation for her pain and suffering.
The life she knew has been taken away from her through no fault of her own. Once a confident and independent woman, Mrs. Shea now lives in fear that she will be left on her own, with no money and no one to help her with day-to-day tasks. Although family members try to assure her they will take care of her, this is the mindset of a Depression-era octogenarian.
Insurance is a business. It's not unreasonable for the representatives of insurance companies to work for the best interests of their clients. There is a line that is crossed, however, when legitimate negotiations and investigations degenerate into delaying tactics designed to prolong a case until the victim dies. The pursuit of profits does not relieve insurance companies from their responsibility to do the right thing, particularly when the issues of fault and injury are so clearly established.
After enduring physical injuries, Mrs. Shea had to suffer through an emotional trial because of deceptive tactics. They include delaying an advance payment, and then withdrawing the offer, and finally making the payment with conditions attached that turned the payment into nothing but an empty gesture. The insurance company also offered to go through mediation and then rescinded the offer -- before finally agreeing, after another year of foot dragging -- to a mediation which produced nothing except this stunning admission by a Farmers representative: “Even if you won a large settlement, we will appeal it for years.”
The insurance company now is counting on discounts from the hospital that treated Mrs. Shea and payments from Medicare to keep its settlement costs down. Why should the hospital or the taxpayers bear the burden for what the insurance company owes?
Honest people like Mrs. Shea deserve a timely settlement of their claims. It is sadly ironic that insurance companies tout integrity and forthrightness in their advertisements, but in actual fact, the insurance company's only motivation seems to be to protect itself from paying a legitimate claim.
In addition to being injured and vulnerable, individuals such as Mrs. Shea lack the enormous financial assets that insurance companies employ to fight claims. In fact, one of the comments from the insurance company during the discussion of a prepayment was “we don’t want to give her the resources to fight with us.” People like Mrs. Shea also frequently become too ill or too discouraged to continue to press for a fair settlement. Taking steps to limit payouts to the injured and the disabled when no one is watching shakes the public's faith in the system. Ultimately, one would think that it is bad for the insurance business, but apparently, Farmers believes this is a practical and responsible way to conduct themselves.
If the needs of a woman like Mrs. Shea, who has played by the rules all of her life, can be ignored, the system truly is broken. No one, not insurance companies nor their shareholders, benefits in the long run from such practices. It is morally indefensible. How can families with limited financial resources deal with tactics like this? In most cases they cannot.