Multi-Million Dollar Excess Judgment Avoided
On August 30, after just over an hour of deliberations, a Riverside jury returned a 12-0 defense verdict on all 6 special verdict questions they were asked to resolve (we needed to go 6-for-6)! The trial was handled by partners James Lemieux and David Ring. This was an auto vs pedestrian accident where the plaintiff’s injuries were massive (brain injury and now nearly non-functional) and the insured stood to be hit with a very large excessive verdict over her $15,000 policy limits. Liability was admitted, and it was admitted that the plaintiff lacked the requisite mental capacity to enter into a contract following this accident. The trial was bifurcated to try our defense of a $15,000 settlement entered into by the carrier in 2011, even though the plaintiff had never actually signed the proposed release agreement and she was mentally incapacitated so the settlement had not previously been “approved” by a trial judge. Those were just a few of the hurdles we faced. Had we lost, the second phase would have been horrendous, with plaintiff claiming $50 million in damages. Pre-trial plaintiff demanded $30 million and reduced it to “only” $20 million during trial. The carrier had offered $1.2 million during trial.
The jury ended up concluding that the carrier properly accepted the settlement offer and that it was not “required” that the carrier also accept a $15,000 NIED settlement demand contained in the same letter. The jury also found that the carrier did not make a counteroffer by sending a proposed release containing a “global release” of not just all claims against the insured but also against any other potentially liable third parties, nor did a “hold harmless” provision act to require indemnification for the NIED claims. As for the issue of the lack of court approval for the settlement, the court agreed that after the jury determined if there was a settlement, the requisite approval for the settlement could thereafter be obtained.
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