On June 19, 2013 a jury in the City of St. Louis returned a verdict for one of our clients in a claim for benefits under the uninsured motorist provision of a Safeco auto policy.
Our client was on his way to work at 6:00 a.m. one morning in 2009 when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Natural Bridge Road who drove through a flashing yellow light and struck our clients vehicle behind the driver’s seat. Our client’s car spun around from the impact and struck another vehicle that was stopped at the traffic light. The car was totaled in the accident. Our client was wearing his seat belt and the airbag deployed, but his body was thrown around. He had neck and shoulder pain that radiated into his arm. About five months after the accident he was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc. Instead of surgery he opted for epidural steroid injections and a course of physical therapy. The charges for the medical treatment in the 6 months after the accident totaled $16,675.75.
Because the negligent driver did not stop and was unidentifiable, our client submitted a claim against his own insurance company Safeco to collect the coverage for his own personal injury under the uninsured motorist coverage in the amount of $50,000.00. About a year after the accident Safeco offered our client $500.00 to settle his claim. He then came to see us. We demanded that Safeco pay the limits of $50,000.
Safeco originally claimed that the herniated disc was not caused by the accident. We got a letter from one of our client’s treating physicians relating the disc injury to the accident. In an effort to try to avoid litigation, our client was willing to settle for $42,500. But the most Safeco would offer before the lawsuit was filed was $14,500. We filed suit in the City of St. Louis and prepared the case for trial. In an effort to save the cost of securing the testimony of his pain management doctor, our client told us to reduce his demand to $41,000. In response Safeco increased its offer to $20,000. This was 6 months before the trial and 3 years after the accident.
Two weeks before trial Safeco upped its offer to $21,000.
Rather than accept the amount offered by Safeco, our client decided to let a jury decide the value of his injury. The trial lawyer, Tim Gallagher said, “The jury was attentive. There were a few jurors who had their own personal experience with back injuries caused by accidents. Our client never missed a day of work, but he didn’t always sleep well. It wasn’t dramatic testimony, but it was real. I am grateful that the jury believed in our client and returned a verdict in his favor.”
After a short deliberation, the jury unanimously returned with a verdict in favor of our client on June 19, 2013, for $100,000.00.
A jury is the only way a policy owner can balance the scales in the contractual relationship with an insurance company. The law requires that everyone who owns a car must purchase uninsured motorist coverage. By law the public must buy that insurance product. But the insurance company sets the price the public pays for the premium. The insurance company writes the language in the policy to state what is and what is not covered. If someone is hurt the insurance company has employees to “adjust” the claim. The policy holder has to take what the insurance company offers – unless they have the patience and the courage to take their case to trial to be judged by their peers.
Finally while the insurance company has staff attorneys to represent it in court, policyholders need lawyers like the lawyers at Heller, Gallagher & Finley to represent them.