Case Highlights Need to Uncover All Possible Insurance Coverage – $1,084,000 Settlement
Courtney Sweasy—October 14, 2010
This was a wrongful death case, arising from a motor vehicle crash in which a woman was killed and three young passengers in the backseat were injured. The two statutory beneficiaries in the death case were the decedent’s 18-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.
The damages suffered by the children were significant because their mother was the glue that held the family together. She in essence ran the family household, and was the major contributor to the family business. The children suffered a loss of income and loss of services, but their emotional losses were much more overwhelming.
The key issue in the case was insurance, and numerous important insurance issues developed. The plaintiff was told initially that the defendant only had $100,000 in coverage. Plaintiff’s counsel, however, had a strong feeling that there was more coverage because the defendant, a 17-year-old, was driving her parents’ vehicle and her parents were owners of a successful family-run business.
In discovery, plaintiff’s counsel subpoenaed all insurance policies and records regarding insurance issued to the defendant’s parents and their business from the insurance agencies where they were purchased, as well as from the various potential insurance carriers.
A $1,000,000 umbrella policy issued to the parents was discovered. This umbrella policy initially appeared to require a $500,000 underlying liability policy, but only a $100,000 underlying liability policy had been purchased. Extensive review of the specific policy language and legal research revealed that the policy was indeed applicable after the first $500,000 in damages was incurred.
Using video interviews from numerous witnesses concerning the extensive damages in the wrongful death case, the plaintiff was able to convince the carriers that the case was worth in excess of $1,500,000, at a minimum. Ultimately, the carrier that had the $100,000 policy and the carrier that had the $1,000,000 umbrella policy both tendered their limits, less a small amount which was paid by the umbrella carrier on two of the personal injury cases from this accident.
In light of the importance of the recent Virginia Supreme Court case of Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company v. Williams, regarding stacking of intrapolicy UIM coverage, this case further emphasizes the necessity for plaintiff’s counsel to discover all applicable insurance policies. One practice pointer learned from this case is to consider directing discovery to the insurance agency that placed the coverage for the defendant, as well as to the defendant.
Type of Action: Wrongful death – automobile accident
Name of Case: Confidential
Special Damages: Funeral bills of $10,962; contested loss of earning capacity and loss of services of $214,875
Verdict or Settlement: Settlement
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Irvin V. Cantor, Elliott M. Buckner
By Courtney Sweasy