Maximizing the Value of a Case When Insurance Policy Limits are Just Not Enough

 In General Interest Blog

All too often as personal injury trial lawyers in Illinois, we learn that the maximum available insurance monies that a client may be entitled to under the applicable insurance policy is just not enough. All too often catastrophic injuries, or death, can occur due to the fault of another driver, a construction company, doctor or manufacturer and the damages can be enormous. Despite good liability and significant damages, oftentimes injured people are denied the fair, full and complete monetary compensation they deserve because there is simply insufficient monies available out of which to pay a fair settlement or satisfy a judgment. And it is so easy for some lawyers to just advise their client: If the insurance company only has X dollars in coverage, thats all we can get for you.

The above, in many situations, is completely true. But prior to laying down and settling a case for less than the full value, a little creativity and aggressive laywering can help secure full and complete monetary justice for injured clients. Recently, GWC lawyers did just that in two different cases: the first such case involved an automobile driver who was killed in a head on collision when a pickup truck, pulling a horse trailer, crossed the center line and drove directly into the on-coming lane of traffic.

The maximum insurance policy limits available were $250,000.00 plus a $1,000,000.00 umbrella policy. GWC partners, Louis Cairo and Michael Fisher, clearly knew that $1.25M was grossly inadequate to fairly compensate the family of the driver killed in the crash. However, the other driver had nominal assets and if the insurance company was agreeable to offer their full policy in good faith, then that would be the full extent of what the family would be able to collect.

The only way that they could get additional monies was if the insurance company negotiated in bad faith, failed to offer its full policy and then GWC wins the trial for an amount in excess of the policy limits. If that occurred, GWC would then be able to file a new lawsuit against the insurance company directly under a theory of Bad Faith. In essence, subjecting the responsible driver to the risk of having an excess judgment entered against her, rather than settling the case directly with the plaintiffs estate for an amount that was within the policy limits, subjected the insurance company to a bad faith claim that could be filed by its insured, the defendant driver.

The theory is that if the insurance company is able to settle a case within its policy limits, it should not gamble with the financial assets of their insured. If they do, then the carrier is at risk that their insured client can sue the insurance company for the amount of the verdict that exceeded the applicable policy limits.

With that legal theory available to them, Cairo and Fisher proceeded to invoke the various measures that they could to either get the case settled for the full policy limits or subject the insurance carrier to a potential bad faith situation for failing to do so. Correspondence was sent out, demands were made, deadlines were established. Fortunately for the family of the decedent, the insurance carrier refused to offer its full policy. So GWC went to trial in February of 2013 and secured a judgment for $9.3M on behalf of the family.

Of course, the insurance companys policy was only $1.25M and the defendant driver had little assets or money to pay the portion of the judgment that exceeded the policy limits. So, GWC went to work to press the carrier to acknowledge its bad faith negotiations and protect their insured who the jury found responsible for the fatality. In historic fashion, within 3 months of the underlying verdict, the drivers insurance company tendered the bad faith claim to an insurance company that they hired to cover them for bad faith claims filed against them. The parties negotiated a good faith resolution of the bad faith claim and the matter settled for $5.2M on May 20, 2013 .

While the amount of settlement was less than the $9.3M verdict, it was four times more than the $1.25M in available insurance monies. The speedy resolution gave the family tremendous financial security and avoided a lengthy appeal of the underlying auto collision verdict and the filing of the second case for the bad faith claim that could have lasted years and potentially been lost.  In another similar situation, GWC partner, Larry Weisman, and associate lawyer, Janine Rosana, secured a large verdict for their client who was involved in a motorcycle accident. Following the verdict, which exceeded the available insurance limits be hundreds of thousands of dollars, the trial team went to work pressuring the insurance carrier for the offending driver to pay the full verdict. Their demands were ultimately met and the carrier paid more than $100,000.00 more than the verdict to avoid being sued for bad faith.

Once again, proof that if the case is properly set up, tried and negotiated, experienced lawyers can make a difference.

There are no guarantees that an insurance company will negotiate in bad faith. Nor is there any guarantee that their failure to offer their full policy limits is bad faith in any way. But if the case is set up properly, if the insurance companys greed leads to a decision not to pay the full policy and if a jury verdict exceeds the policy limits, real justice may definitely be within ones grasp. It takes hard work, good lawyering and a big verdict. These are things that come naturally at GWC because we work incredibly hard to secure the best possible results for our clients. We are trial lawyers and get excellent verdicts for our clients and we are never afraid to say that the insurance policy limits are just not enough!

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