Do you believe in miracles? In 1980, the United States men’s hockey team did. It overcame all odds to defeat the favored Soviet Union en route to winning Olympic gold. Rick J. Lindsey, the president, chairman and chief executive officer of Prime Insurance Company and Prime Property & Casualty Insurance, says he was inspired by that team, which he saw firsthand when he was invited to try out for the squad in 1979.
Lindsey, a Utah native, played on a travel team and attended a hockey school each summer with University of Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson and Art Berglund, an International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Famer. When he was 19, he was invited to try out for the Olympic team. He didn’t make the team, but the experience served as a wake-up call for Lindsey, who said he realized it was “time to get a real job.”
“It made me very motivated to jump into something that I have knowledge of,” said Lindsey, who was also working at his dad’s MGA at the time. Lindsey started his own company in 1982, and began doing national programs for groups and associations after Congress passed the Liability Risk Retention Act of 1986.
He says he owes a lot to his Olympic hockey experience. “I think that whole youth experience and the Olympic hockey team experience gave me the confidence to believe in myself and a team,” Lindsey said. “I have 300 employees now, and I’m blessed to have people who believe. When other people look at it, they don’t believe it. There’s no way you’re doing that unless you have a bunch of wins, and you have a long history of winning lawsuits.”
One of the main things he’s learned, Lindsey said, is that high-risk ventures aren’t high risk if you can trust your insureds. That’s why he’s very outspoken when it comes to litigation: Lindsey says insurers shouldn’t be afraid to fight for their insureds in court, and asserts that anyone who believes the headlines about so-called “nuclear verdicts”—where insurers are finding themselves on the wrong end of billion-dollar judgments —is “drinking the punch of the enemy.”
As an example, Lindsey points to a case in which a Florida jury awarded $411.73 million to a plaintiff who was injured in a 45-vehicle pileup in 2018 and had filed a lawsuit against a trucking company Prime insured. Once the headlines settled down, Prime was able to negotiate, ultimately paying out $991,000, according to a press release issued by Prime in 2020.
“Reality is what you can collect, not some fake verdict that you put out there and put on your website,” Lindsey said. He noted the people who are most fearful of nuclear verdicts are the insurers themselves. “That’s what surprises me.”
He says when he knows the lawyer is right, he will pay up and move on. When he believes he’s right, though, he will fight. Lindsey says the key for insurers is to partner with insureds who will be willing to fight lawsuits. It’s just as important to keep insureds happy, paying claims when they should be paid.
His approach has worked so far, and the results sometimes surprise his critics. In 2010, Prime Insurance was successfully defended in what was believed to be the first victory in Mississippi for an insurer in a Hurricane Katrina lawsuit.
“The jury said, ‘If my insurance company would have treated me the way Prime treated this guy, I would’ve been happy,’” Lindsey said. “Every claim I look at I think, ‘What if it was me on the other side?’”