As I fumbled through radio stations, the unforgettable memories of a horn blaring, tires screeching, and turning just in time to see a truck smashing into my car came flooding back. Glass shattering, the airbag deploying, I had gasped for breath from the sudden impact. It is sad that most people will have to go through a car accident like this one at least once in their lifetime. Kathy Highland was the insurance adjuster from Shelter Insurance Company who was assigned to my case. Her professionalism, courtesy, and understanding changed this horror story into just another chapter in my life, a chapter which I am now able to look back upon as a valuable learning experience.
The morning sun warmed the air that April day. It was Thursday around nine a.m. when I arrived at the Shelter Insurance building. I looked around Kathy's office noticing her diploma from the University of Oklahoma and a couple of certificates for the insurance company hanging on the wall.
Directly behind her was a quotation in a small frame. It read, "When looking for the reason why things go wrong never rule out sheer stupidity." I asked Kathy what it meant to her. Kathy looked at me and said, "People come into my office thinking I have all the answers and I can give them everything they want." It is easy to see that Kathy's knowledge is what people desire. With her professionalism and courtesy she is able to ease the suffering of her clients and not compensate them more than the company is willing to. About that time the phone rang, and she picked it up and said, "Kathy Highland." She listened for a few seconds as she tapped her pen on the desk, and finally said, "What is the claim number." As if she had done this a million times, Kathy told the person on the phone to go ahead and extend the car rental and then hung up the phone. Clearly Kathy handles her work swiftly and methodically easing the anguish of the ordeal as easy as possible.
As I asked Kathy, "Where does the claim process begin?" She started to explain to me the claim process from beginning to end. First the adjuster will call both parties involved in the accident. Kathy said, "This could be the fun part. Most of the time you get two different stories of the accident." Then the adjuster will go to the scene of the accident with the police report to determine what percentage each person is at fault. She said, "This is the hard part, trying to imagine the accident happening. By the way that reminds me, I have a case I need to work on today. Would you like to come along?" Happily, I said, "Yes," so we headed across town to the accident scene.
The accident had happened only two days before when. An 82 year old man made a left turn in front of a high school student who had a new Mustang. Kathy said, "This case appears to be clear as to who is at fault, but if the student was speeding he could be held partly at fault." The police report stated that the Mustang laid 47 feet of tire marks, 40 of which were before impact and 7 after impact. The police report noted that the older man received a ticket and the student did not. It was clear to me that the older man was at fault. Kathy was still not certain the student was not speeding. After the adjuster has reviewed the police report and the accident scene, she will go to the wrecker yard to appraise the damage of the vehicles. As we pulled into the wrecker yard, I saw all the vehicles as if it was a cemetery of cars and trucks that no one wanted anymore. Kathy, knowing her way around the yard, pointed out the writing on the windshields. Each vehicle had an accident case number in grease pencil written on it. Kathy quickly found the 1979 Delta 88 and new Mustang near the front of the yard.
As I walked through the yard, I saw the damaged vehicles. I realized how many lives were lost and changed. The damage was minor on one car and massive on another. As we looked at the Mustang, I saw that it was a total loss and no amount of money or time could restore it. The old battle wagon had minor damage compared to the Mustang. Kathy told me that it would be a total loss because of its age. It appeared to me that Kathy knew the damage and age of the vehicle would cost more to repair the vehicle than what it was worth.
As we headed back across town to Kathy's office, I asked her if the student was at fault. She responded, "By the amount of tire marks and damage to the vehicles he is going to be 20 percent at fault for speeding. If he would not have been speeding the damage would not have been so extensive."
When we arrived at the insurance company, I realized I had learned much about Kathy's job. This insight into her life had helped ease the pain which I had felt since my accident. Weather she knew it or not Kathy had an ability to comfort her clients while she helped work through their claims. This comforting, along with the knowledge of the adjusting process that I had received from her, transformed a terrifying accident into an experience which I often look back on even now, appreciating everything Kathy did for me.