As Jacksonville car accident lawyers, we see our fair share of personal injury claims in which the insurer for the at-fault driver refuses to make a fair settlement offer. A recent case we resolved highlights the consequences an insurer faces if the injured person’s attorney has the experience to set the foundation for a bad faith claim.
Our client suffered two herniated discs due to a head on, high impact, car crash in Jacksonville’s Arlington area. Despite the severity of his injuries and his mounting medical bills, he gave the at-fault driver’s insurer the opportunity obtain a complete release of liability in his favor in exchange for payment of his minimal $25,000.00 bodily injury policy limit. Instead, the insurer offered $9,000.00. We stopped all negotiations and filed suit. After years of litigation, the insurer agreed to pay our client $600,000.00 based on its exposure for a bad faith claim.
A “third party” bad faith claim allows an injured person to recover more than an alt-fault driver’s insurance coverage from that person’s auto insurer in limited circumstances. Perhaps the easiest way to understand this is to place yourself in the shoes of the at-fault driver. Imagine for an unpleasant moment that you made a mistake while driving and caused someone to suffer a badly broken leg. Let’s say you had the foresight to purchase bodily injury insurance coverage just in case something like this were to happen.
Next, the person with the broken leg contacts your insurer and offers to settle all claims against you for the payment of the $100,000.00 in coverage that you purchased. You are relieved to know you will be off the hook because that person’s medical bills alone after surgery came to $75,000.00, not to mention his or her entitlement to future medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and disability.
Instead of settling the case, your insurer decides to “roll the dice” hoping that a jury will look unfavorably on the injured person. The jury comes back with a judgment for $1.2 million. Your insurer now pays the $100,000.00 in coverage, leaving a judgment against you for $1.1 million. The judgment prevents you from selling real property (from which it would be paid first), negatively affects your credit, exposes you to collection activities (wage garnishments, seizure of value personal property, garnishment of bank or asset accounts) and post-judgment discovery to investigate the status of your assets.
You would rightfully be angry at your own auto insurance company. It could have secured a release in your favor from all liability at no cost to you. Instead, you are now going to be hounded by a judgment for decades to come. In this situation, the law allows for the injured person to obtain an assignment of your right to sue your auto insurer for failing to act in good faith in protecting you from having a judgment entered against you. In so doing, the injured person can pursue the full amount of the judgment he or she received.
When our Jacksonville car accident lawyers provide a demand to an insurance company, we take specific steps designed to preserve the client’s right to seek bad faith damages in the future if the insurer does not make a fair offer. To do so requires experience as there many nuances to accomplish this including creating a compelling and complete documentation of the personal injuries involved, the effects of those injuries, and the resulting medical expenses and lost wages.