One look at Dan Karr in a yellow-green cycling jacket and on his mean road bicycle, I knew he'd leave me in the dust on Bike to Work Day, and he almost did. I had to work it for 10 miles. At the end there was not one bead of sweat on his face, just an easy smile.
That was seven years ago. I met Karr again recently at a coffee shop under drastically different circumstances. Karr has moved far away from Silicon Valley and doesn't commute by bike these days.
"What's happened since then is a story you would not believe," he said in his invitation to me. "I can hardly believe it myself." Here's what happened: A motorist plowed into Karr as he was bicycling through an intersection only a few weeks after our ride together. He might have been killed had he not swerved to avoid a head-on collision. Still, he suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs and hip, and spent several months in expensive recovery. And that was just the beginning.
"I found out the hard way that after an accident involving an automobile, your medical insurance can stop paying your bills because they think your auto insurance is liable," he said, "and your auto insurance does not want to pay them either."
A former software engineer and marketing executive -- his valley stops included Cirrus Logic, Virata Corp. and Tzero Technologies -- Karr was in a better position than most policy holders to fight back after he was stuck with $84,000 in unpaid medical bills. He reached a settlement with the insurance company of the motorist who hit him, but ironically, needed a lawyer to get his own auto insurance company to pay up.
Karr and the company settled the case out of court in 2011, but not after he endured a beguiling, frustrating journey through the world of personal injury law and medicine. We met near the San Jose airport during a quick trip for him to discuss his new book, "Injured Money," and an online startup business that would rate insurance companies by how well or badly they pay benefits after accidents (more at http://www.injuredmoney.com). "There is no revenge in it," he said, holding up a paperback copy. "There was some at the beginning, but writing the book was cathartic. It's an institutional problem that needs to be reformed." The Insurance Information Institute disagrees.
Michael Barry, a spokesman for the industry-supported organization, said most states regulate auto insurance and that policyholders are more satisfied now than in 2000, when J.D. Powers first studied the business.
"Auto insurers routinely pay out hundreds of billions of dollars in claims to tens of millions of policyholders every year and, while some people may have bad claims experiences, they are the exception, rather than the rule," Barry said.
But Rutgers law school professor Jay Feinman, author of "Delay, Deny, Defend: Why Insurance Companies Don't Pay Claims and What You Can Do About It," said Karr "has an important story to tell and he tells it very well."
"Unfortunately, the story is all too common," Feinman said. "Increasingly, insurance companies delay paying claims, deny valid claims in whole or part, and force policyholders and accident victims to sue to get the benefits they are entitled to -- the strategy known as 'delay, deny, defend.' Karr is doing important work in educating consumers and giving them the information they need to fight back."
Karr's still lean and trim with bit more gray on top. He gets around well enough for now. But one doctor said he'll probably need an artificial hip some day. Karr and his wife, Kelly, and their three children now live in Bedford, New Hampshire, where she has family. The couple would have moved there eventually, Karr said, for the region's excellent schools and mellow lifestyle.
During our meeting he wore hip eyeglasses and a navy blue sport coat and khaki pants -- the uniform of New England preppies. But the Oregon native still looks more like a West Coast computer geek than a Yankee blue blood.
Although Karr accused his auto insurer of dropping a key coverage from his policy without telling him and modifying his medical reports, he doesn't name any of the insurance adjusters, companies or doctors involved in his story. The reason, he said, was to keep the reader focused on the problem of widespread foot-dragging and nonpayment in the personal injury insurance industry.
Karr sticks to giving advice to people in the same jam by drawing on his own experiences every step of the way. For example, everybody should know not to talk to the other guy's insurance company. But Karr really shines when he explains what injured people should say and not say to their own insurance company. Telling too much, even admitting to feeling a little better after an accident, could give the insurer all the reason they need to drag things out and reduce payments.
"Delaying and denying is a common tactic used by insurance companies," he writes. "Think of it as a way of intentionally torturing you, to wear you down so you settle for less money to end the pain of dealing with them."
After 30 years in California, he misses the weather and cycling in general. On one of his rare, long-distance "fun" rides in New Hampshire, he said, a wayward motorist killed two cyclists on the same route. Kelly cringes every time he mounts his bike.
Karr doesn't see himself returning to Silicon Valley soon, but he's not left technology behind. He's written the algorithms for a Web-based company that would aggregate data on personal injury payment records and sell it to consumers looking for the right insurance company for them. He launched a Kickstarter campaign this month to raise money for the startup. He's become a crusading writer and entrepreneur who markets his own message in the information age.
"I never thought I would be an author," he said with a familiar smile, "but now I'm having the time of my life."