The articles on this page are real assignments by John Hawkins, an actual claims adjuster — proof that the claims investigation business can be every bit as challenging and demanding as a typical African jungle safari or wrestling alligators in a Florida swamp...
The Case of the Interrupted Meal and the Fatal Accident by John Hawkins
The pleasant ambiance of a meal with friends at the Good Earth Restaurant was pierced by the sound of my pager going off.
I glanced at my watch. It was 7:33pm. With senses honed I got up from the table and made my way to the pay phone. My worst fears were realized in the short time it took me to contact the service and to be informed that there was a new assignment. They needed me on the scene NOW. On my way back to the table I looked outside at the windswept streets and pouring rain. "Why me?" was the thought that kept echoing through my head.
As I hurtled down the 210 freeway towards La Tuna Canyon Road, all I knew was that there had been an accident involving a waste management vehicle somewhere down in the canyon. As I approached the scene I saw a cluster of cars, hardly visible through the pouring rain. Police vehicles and ambulances were parked at odd angles blocking off the road. There were steep hills on either side. There were no street lamps. Visibility was abysmal. The rain was causing torrents of water to gush in waves across both lanes of the roadway. I was not prepared for what came next. As I pulled over to the side of the road, I put my emergency blinkers on and was met by the waste company’s supervisor. He pointed out a white BMW a few yards further up the canyon, and with poker face informed me that the driver was still inside and was deceased. A full-size waste company pickup truck was parked off to the side of the canyon a few feet further on from the BMW. Its left side from front to back was completely smashed in. Other remnants of vehicles were scattered about, all seriously damaged.
I began to take stock of the scene that lay before me, my mind compartmenting off the stress of the situation in order to allow a plan of action to spring forth which would mean the maximum benefit for my client in the shortest possible time, weighed against what the police and pouring rain would allow. I looked around for the people from the other cars. No dice. They were being interviewed by the cops. But, there was the waste company’s driver, sitting in the passenger seat of the supervisor's truck. I made a beeline for him, pulled him out and into my car. Shaking the raindrops off and trying to keep them from falling onto my tape recorder and clipboard I began to unravel the facts of the human drama that lay before me. He didn't know the BMW driver was dead and I wasn't going to be the one to tell him. Slowly but steadily his version of the accident emerged. He was coming down La Tuna Canyon—doing no more than 40 — couldn't see too well — rain driving against his windshield. Suddenly he hit a curve and the next instant he was skating — lost control — tried to brake but no good — and then — IMPACT. Not one, but two or three. Nothing could describe the sensation he felt of utter futility and helplessness as he hydroplaned out of control and his truck became the arbiter of his destiny for a few full and timeless seconds. Amazingly, he was not hurt. And, when his truck finally stopped there was a moment of peace, like he was floating somewhere in unending space. He just sat there, frightened and numb, unable to move, his mind incapable of fathoming the events that had just transpired.
After finishing with the driver it was time for me to brave the storm again and try and get some photographs. Sheltering my camera as best I could in the folds of my coat I slipped out into the driving rain. I began shooting the BMW from a distance as the cops wouldn't let me near it until the corpse had been removed. I shot the other vehicles, the waste company truck, the road surface and the debris. Tow trucks were arriving. Their orange flashing lights mingled with the bright red glare from the flares that had been put down by the cops. It reminded me of a Christmas scene, but there was no joy here.
Methodically, the ambulance men removed the body from the BMW. It was a young male I was told, Middle Eastern. I stood a distance away from the car waiting for a signal from the cops. It came. I moved towards the BMW, flash at the ready. The driver's seat still radiated the aura of sudden death. I leaned in. The left side was completely crushed. It was obvious that it had been broadsided by the truck, a much heavier vehicle. Then I saw the bloodstains on the back of the seat and on the frame inside just behind the driver's window.
I finished with my photos knowing that most of them probably wouldn't turn out due to the inky blackness of the canyon and the unrelenting downpour. The other people had all left the scene in passenger seats of tow trucks or with relatives. The police report face sheet would be made available tomorrow. I would catch up with them then. The cars had all been towed. There was nothing left for me to do here. Soaked to the skin and beginning to shiver, I coordinated with the waste company supervisor to meet at their offices at 8:00am the next morning. There would be a conference call with "corporate" and their attorneys to discuss strategy and damage control. I checked my camera and notes, wiping off the rain. Driving a little more carefully than usual, I made my way back up La Tuna Canyon, home to a hot shower and to prepare for what was to come, for I knew that what had transpired this evening was just a prelude and that the real beginning would be at 8:00am the next day.
The Case of the Belligerent Boxer and the "Simple Job" by John Hawkins
"It’s a simple job", Sandi Evans said to me from the doorway of my office. "Do you want it?"
"Sure" I said, "why not?"
The job my fellow adjuster was referring to was an appointment to photo an insured’s vehicle and to take a statement. Simple enough, and a chance to log some extra hours before the week ended. My supervisor would be happy about that as my billable hours had been slipping recently.
So, after battling L.A. rush hour traffic for an hour or more I finally arrived at the insured’s house. It turns out I’m supposed to photograph two cars, not one, and sort out a tricky coverage question. She didn’t mention that. I knocked on the front door and was met with a snarling, gnashing eighty plus pounds of roly-poly flesh and fur with a face that resembled a busted boot. This was my first encounter with "Bernard", the insured’s boxer dog. I hear a voice yell from inside "The cars are out back. One’s in the garage and the other is in front of it." Thank goodness there was a screen door!
I gingerly edge my way through the gate and into the back yard half expecting at any moment to have one or more limbs set upon and ripped off by some hound from hell, but fortunately, I’m still in one piece as I reach the garage. The first car, an El Camino is there alright, but it’s almost in pieces and is surrounded by torn out seats, bumpers, old oil cans and engine parts. I ease my flash attachment onto my camera and begin snapping. The angle is such that I can only manage at best to get half the car in the frame. As I edge myself around to the rear to find the license plate my backside brushes up against something oily. I turn around to see what it was and almost stumble on some engine parts and go flying into the bed. Coming very close to dislocating one of the vertebrae in my neck I manage to get a shot of the plate.
I leave the garage thinking the other car will be easier to photo. By this time, the insured’s wife who is in a wheelchair is outside with Bernard. Both of them eye me suspiciously. There are several cars in the yard. I check with her for the right one and she indicates the one that is right up against the garage door with another car alongside it leaving about three inches of space. Great! I manage to get the shots again resorting to stances that a professional contortionist would have been envious of.
Now it’s time to take the insured’s statement. For some reason she wants to do it outside in the back yard. I look around for somewhere to sit but the yard is an absolute rubbish heap. There are six cars in various stages of decay, old tarpaulins, rusty tools, old engines, broken chairs. Over in a corner is Bernard’s place for doing his "jobs". There are weird looking insects flying around and a putrid smell in the air. As I look around for somewhere to sit, a mangy old cat that looks like it’s infested comes up and begins to rub itself up against the bottom of my trouser legs. I try to tactfully kick it off without the insured’s wife noticing. I eventually settle on an old suitcase that’s on top of a bench of an old picnic table and get out my legal pad and clipboard. I begin asking my questions.
I had gotten about 30 seconds into the statement when Bernard decides that I have encroached on his territory for too long and comes and stands by my right leg and begins to growl, his bared fangs about six inches away from my calf muscles. He receives a reprimand from his mistress and falls silent. But, not for long. He does a 180 and decides he now likes me and leaps up onto my lap sending my pad and clipboard flying and in the process, depositing half a gallon of rancid dripping dog saliva, which had been hanging precariously from his jowls, onto my trouser legs at the thigh.
I try to pretend this isn’t happening and press on with my questioning. Let’s get this over with and get the hell out of Dodge! Bernard dons a look of rejection on his face and backs away. Out of the corner of my eye I see him go over to the corner where his dog bowl is and begins to lick the basin which sends a flurry of flies into the air and buzzing around the yard. Meanwhile, the insured’s wife is telling me that she can’t find her policy, doesn’t know who her agent is or where to find him and doesn’t know when she bought the insurance! I look down at my notes and there are ants on my legal pad. "Oh yeah", says the insured’s wife, "We have an ant problem".
I notice Bernard returning from his snack of dog biscuits and maggots. As I am writing I am also holding in my left hand the claims file. For some unknown reason, best known to God and dogs, Bernard decides that the file constitutes some form of deadly threat. With one huge leap, he goes for the file — jaws open wide, teeth bared. I manage to snatch it out of the path of his hot dog breath just in the nick of time. I save the file from teeth indentations but not the saliva, which begins to run in sticky rivulets down the outside covers. The insured’s wife leans forwards and snatches the file from my hands. "You see", she says, "He’s alright when I have it!"
I let her keep the file for now and try to get back on track and to sort out this complicated coverage question. Bernard is prowling around the yard occasionally giving me "hurt feelings" looks, probably because I wouldn’t let him digest my file. Suddenly, he decides that my right leg would make an ideal mate for him and he begins humping it. "Bernard!" scolds his mistress, "Bad boy, get down!" He reluctantly ceases and desists his amorous maneuvers and goes off to sulk in the corner. The flies reappear.
I push on through and get the information I need and hurriedly say goodbye and I’m out the gate before Bernard can wreak any more havoc. As I close the gate he's up on it with his front paws, barking at me as if to warn me to never return. As I walk towards my car I feel a gooey wetness on my thigh and begin to feel little bites all over my body. I begin to scratch my legs, my ears, my hair.
As I drive away I get the picture of Sandy Evans standing in my office doorway.
"It’s a simple job…you want it?"
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