When you get hurt in a car crash, the other driver’s liability coverage is often the maximum amount that is available for your injuries—this is one reason that I am a big advocate applying underinsured motorist coverage. Given that the minimum liability coverage in Missouri is $25,000, The S.E. Farris Law Firm often face cases where there isn’t enough coverage to begin to repay my client’s damages.
When you buy liability insurance to cover a risk, your insurance company has an obligation to attempt to settle claims against you within your policy limits. If they don’t settle within the policy limit and a jury awards a verdict that is more than your insurance would cover, you are responsible to pay what your insurance does not.
If the insurance company has an opportunity to settle within policy limits and refuses in an attempt to save their money, they are gambling with your assets and they may be acting in bad faith.
In two recent cases, the insurance companies gambled and lost, paying my clients a lot more than the policy limits.
The first is a case that was referred to me by an out-of-state lawyer. My client was severely injured by a drunk driver who had a $100,000 liability policy. Even though my client’s medical bills were over $100,000, the claims adjuster offered $47,000 to settle the case.
When we got involved, we immediately filed a lawsuit. We investigated the other driver and found that he had multiple drunk driving convictions. By showing the full extent of my client’s injuries and preparing the case for trial, the insurance company realized their gamble was a horrible bet. They ultimately settled for $150,000. ($50,000 more than the policy limits.)
The other case involved a young man who was a passenger in a car that hit a guardrail. Both he and his driver had been drinking alcohol, and he was riding along rather than driving riskily himself. We presented his claim to the driver’s insurer, the American Automobile Association (AAA) and asked for the full amount of her $50,000 liability policy. Even though my client had over $100,000 in medical bills, AAA did not offer their policy limits.
We persistently demanded four times that they pay the limits and give my client the compensation that he deserved. At the last opportunity, the driver’s company-appointed attorney, who is an officer for AAA, filed an offer of judgment for $40,000. This was the last straw.
We advised the driver that my client was willing to enter into an agreement to protect her assets and only sue her insurance company if she would agree to fire the company attorney and allow the damages portion of the case to proceed in front of a judge. She did so and the judge awarded over $500,000 in his verdict.
At this point, we filed suit against AAA directly. We got their claim file and learned that AAA was aware of the extent of my client’s injuries one month after the crash, yet they never offered their policy limits. In fact, when the company lawyer offered $40,000, he had authority from the claims adjuster to pay the full policy limits. His gamble ultimately cost the company $225,000 as they settled the claim in mediation rather than let a jury add attorney fees and punitive damages to the verdict.
There is never enough money for my clients after a car crash. My law firm is committed to fighting hard for every client that chooses us by exploring every opportunity to make things right for them. When the stakes are so high—when your personal and financial wellbeing are on the line—you deserve to have an experienced and devoted attorney on your side.