Family Vacation, then BOOM.
An actual photo from the crash. Used with permission from the client.
A Horrible Crash
An older woman skids out of control around a curve, crossing the center line, and crashing into a mini-van. In the van is a family of 4, husband and wife, and two children, ages 8 and 12. Unfortunately, the woman, though alive at the scene, died of her injuries.
Each member of the family, my clients, sustained serious injuries. The impact severed a tendon in the father's knee, requiring emergency surgery and leaving a permanent foot plus-long scar. He also bruised his nose, leaving a permanent bump. His wife was luckier, but had so much bruising on her chest, abdomen, and hips, that photos appeared to be colored in purple crayon. Fortunately, she escaped anything more serious than knee, back, and neck strains.
The older child, a boy, had the least serious injuries, mimicking his mother's brutal bruising across his hips and abdomen. Other than some minor neck and back complaints, he was able to recover without incident. The youngest child, a girl, was the most seriously injured. She lost consciousness at the scene, was transported via ambulance, and suffered a fractured cheekbone (orbital), cuts to her lip, chin, and above and below her eye. She underwent emergency plastic surgery to repair the facial injuries, and paid visits to both the dentist and eye doctor to repair her teeth and to confirm her vision was not affected.
The youngest child, a girl, was the most seriously injured. She lost consciousness at the scene, was transported via ambulance, and suffered a fractured cheekbone (orbital), cuts to her lip, chin, and above and below her eye. She underwent emergency plastic surgery to repair the facial injuries, and paid visits to both the dentist and eye doctor to repair her teeth and to confirm her vision was not affected.
Within weeks, most of the members of the family began to feel better, although the girl exhibited signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mentioning fearfulness while in the car, having difficulties in school, and being embarrassed by people asking about her scars at school. She saw a therapist, who did help her overcome many of her fears, but still is not exactly the same as before the crash.
What We Did For The Family
After filing a lawsuit against the estate of the woman who hit them, we were able to recover nearly the maximum amount of insurance to compensate all four members of the family.
However, it was not easy. There was limited insurance, with a policy limit of $100,000 per person and an aggregate of $300,000 per incident. That meant that the most any one person could receive was the $100,000, and the most the entire family combined could receive was the $300,000.
Unfortunately, my clients' policy was the exact same liability limits. Under Illinois law, unless the limits of their policy are MORE THAN those of the at-fault party, there is no possibility of recovering from their Underinsured Motorist coverage.
Further, the woman at fault was of modest means. There were no assets in her estate, just a modest home, some debts, and bills to be paid. In short, there was nothing available to pursue, so we were limited pursuing her insurance coverage only.
At first, the insurance carrier for the woman's estate did not want to take the matter seriously, refusing to offer anywhere close to the $100,000 limits demanded for both the daughter and the father. Either one of them could arguably be entitled to that figure, but we were forced to continually furnish more current photos of the scars. After all, in scarring cases, if they heal up well, the value of the case goes down significantly. Thus, delay, always a tactic for insurance carriers and defense lawyers, was particularly useful to them in this case. That was the main reason we filed suit so early, even before the daughter was released from care; we needed to get this moving in court and force their hand.
Ultimately, a special letter, known as a "policy demand" letter was sent. This binds the insurance company and its insured for any "bad faith" verdict (a verdict that is over the limits of liability), plus the payment of attorney's fees.
A Settlement—What Comes Next?
This finally did the trick, with the $100,000 offered on the daughter's case. Next step was to negotiate the other three cases to the maximum value. One other thing to concentrate on was the repayment of liens or subrogation interests. In this case, the health insurance carrier for the family had paid the vast majority of the bills. Under the contractual arrangement of insurance, they were obligated to repay this money out of any settlement or verdict. Further, their auto carrier's "medical payments" coverage had paid out $5,000 each in medicals.
One other thing to concentrate on was the repayment of liens or subrogation interests. In this case, the health insurance carrier for the family had paid the vast majority of the bills. Under the contractual arrangement of insurance, they were obligated to repay this money out of any settlement or verdict. Further, their auto carrier's "medical payments" coverage had paid out $5,000 each in medicals.
The total medical bills were approximately $46,000 for the daughter, just below that figure for the father. Plus, they were the most severely injured, with permanent scars, serious damage, and surgery, so we were able to settle the father's case for $96,500.
For the mother, her bills were only $10,000, and the son's were $12,000. Both were done treating within weeks. In short, while many people would have treated for much longer, both wished to move on with their lives, and pushed the doctors to release them from care. In fact, the mother, a busy executive, did not miss any work. The father is self-employed, so there was no demonstrable wage loss. Thus, it was hard to push the case value to the upper aggregate limit of $300,000, as the value of the smaller two claims was not enough to "scare" the insurer or its lawyers. In the end, we were able to procure significant settlements under the circumstances of $42,500 for the mother and $31,500 for the son. The entire gross settlements for the family totaled $270,500.
For the two children, Illinois law requires that this money be set aside in a Federally-insured, interest-bearing bank account. It must be left in the account until the child turns 18, and cannot be removed for any reason without a court order. Thus, for both children, this will be a very good supplement to their college accounts.
The crash occurred in rural Illinois, when the family was returning from a trip to Galena. Therefore, the lawsuit was filed in Stephenson County, which is close to a three-hour car ride from Chicago. We had to make several trips to Freeport for court appearances, and to make sure the minor's estates were set up properly, and to provide proper documentation of this to the judge. This was another factor in reducing the value of the case, as rural areas historically have lower jury verdicts than urban areas. We had no choice of where to file, so this worked against us.
There is no way to turn back the clock and "undo" injuries and scars. Our civil justice system only provides for monetary damages, which is what we were able to obtain in this case.