A recent Cook County verdict in a wrongful death auto accident case may send a strong message to insurance companies. On September 28, 2007 a jury at the Daley Center in Chicago awarded the Estate of an accident victim $250,000 in a personal injury lawsuit. The deceased was a passenger in her own car when the defendant driver of the vehicle lost control and rolled over. The plaintiff was ejected from the car and died from her injuries.
Prior to trial at the Daley Center in Chicago, counsel for plaintiff demanded $20,000 to settle, and there was no offer from the defendant. You may be asking yourself why the plaintiff’s demand was only $20,000 on a death case. In Illinois, the minimum coverage for an auto insurance policy is $20,000 per person, and $40,000 per occurrence. The insurance company normally would only be responsible for the first $20,000 of the verdict. However, here the attorney for the plaintiff, Debra Crystal of Harvey L. Walner & Assoc. has indicated she will attempt to collect the entire amount against the insurance company on a bad faith claim. She is alleging the insurance company acted in bad faith by not paying out the $20,000 policy and failing to protect the defendant from a verdict far in excess of the insurance policy. She will attempt to punish the insurance company for not paying on the claim prior to trial.
To further complicate matters, the defendant’s insurance company has filed an Action for Declaratory Judgment against the defendant driver. They are alleging that the defendant did not have a valid driver’s license at the time of the accident, and therefor they should not have to insure the driver and/or pay on the verdict.
Plaintiff’s attorney believes the insurance company’s declaratory action will fail and the insurance carrier will be forced by the court to pay the excess verdict. Not paying the $20,000 prior to trial seems like risky business on the part of the insurance carrier, but I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens.