Why we got a $465,000 verdict for a knee injury; Why insurance companies sometimes refuse to pay; and How to avoid being at risk when you cause an accident
We obtained a $465,000 jury verdict at trial in Nassau County for a motorcyclist who had a knee injury with arthroscopic surgery to repair the meniscus. Our client was struck by a car turning left. The driver had a $300,000 insurance policy.
GEICO’s offer was $10,000 and increased to $20,000 before trial. After the first part of the trial on negligence, the jury found the driver was at 100% at fault. The claims representative then hinted he might be able to get $100,000 and told me they settle cases like this “all day for $35,000-$40,000”. The judge requested that I lower my demand so we could attempt settlement and I refused.
How can a case get so far as to reach a trial verdict in excess of the insurance policy and place the defendant at great personal financial risk?
The first mistake insurance companies make is steadfastly believing their driver’s version of the accident. Drivers often don’t want to believe they’re at fault and tell a biased story they believe will exonerate them.
In our case, the driver claimed to have correctly executed a textbook definition of how to make a left turn and he blamed the motorcyclist for the accident. Claims representatives who are neither attorneys nor accident reconstruction experts believed his story and they fought all the way; we never settled; and the case went to trial. We proved to the jury that the driver lied and never saw the motorcycle when he drove in front of it, as is the usual cause.
It is dangerous to try to avoid responsibility for an unintentional accident because it can expose you to personal liability above your insurance liability limit. Insurance is purchased to protect personal assets and income. The fear that premiums may go up is misguided and they may not even be increased.
So how can someone prevent the insurance company from exposing them to a trial placing assets and income at risk? Simply tell the truth! If you didn’t see the motorcycle or another car, just tell that to the police and your insurance company.
Telling the truth will make life easier! You won’t have to testify at a deposition and you won’t have to testify at a trial. It will also make your life financially safer.
If the insurance company knows the accident was the fault of their driver, they won’t argue liability and will negotiate the value of the injury caused. This increases the chance of a settlement instead of a trial. When a case is settled, the injured person must sign a release, releasing the defendants from personal liability and all the money will come from the insurance company.
The second mistake which the insurance company made in this case was to seriously underestimate the long-term consequence of the injury. GEICO hired two orthopedic surgeons and a radiologist claiming that he did not have a meniscus tear and that the surgery was unnecessary. Insurance companies also steadfastly believe their doctors even though they have a substantial financial reason to misrepresent the facts.
Philip L. Franckel, Esq. is one of the Personal Injury Dream Team™ Partners at 1-800-HURT-911® New York; He has a 10 Avvo rating; Avvo Client’s Choice with all 5-star reviews; Avvo Top Contributor; and a former Member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. Mr. Franckel is well-known in New York for representing motorcyclists and created the motorcycle awareness campaign BE AWARE MOTORCYCLES ARE EVERYWHERE®.