My experience in the only lawsuit ever filed against megreenspun.com : LUSENET : Country Families : One Thread
On a dark, rainy evening in November, 1999, I was on my way home from shopping with four children in the van. I was not paying close enough attention to my driving, and did not notice the car in front of me stopped at a red light until it was too late to stop safely. I pled guilty to following too closely and paid the fine; I was clearly at fault. After completing all the paperwork involved, I left everything else up to our insurance company. As this is the only ticket I have ever had in nearly 20 years of driving, I didn't worry too much about it.
February, 2001, I was served with a summons from the woman whose car I hit. I was surprised to learn that I, personally, was being sued for more than I will ever be worth, to pay for injuries she supposedly received as a result of the accident. We contacted our insurance company, who stated that they had a lawyer working on the case who would serve as our lawyer and advise us as to what to do next. He told us that there would be a deposition before the case went to jury trial, and that we would be notified as to what to do and when.
Today, April 9, 2002, we finally had that deposition. Things came out in the case that suggest there may have been some pre-existing conditions that are being covered up in hopes that our insurance will pay for medical expenses. Of course, I cannot say this as fact, but our lawyer told us that he doesn't think the case will go to trial once he digs into this information. But if it does, he doesn't think the trial date will be any sooner than 9 months to a year from now, and that we should just go about out lives without concerning ourselves about the case.
I went today as nervous as anything, since I was at fault. Actually, there wasn't much to it. I stated facts as I saw them; most of the rest of the time was spent questioning the other woman about her health and employment history. It was an interesting experience. We had a good lawyer, so I guess there are some good lawyers out there:o)
I will be glad when all this is over, but at least I don't have to worry too much about my part in it.
-- Cathy N. (eastern Ontario) (email@example.com), April 09, 2002
Although I can't give legal advice, I can tell you that as a paralegal my speciality was in personal injury law and I worked for 10 years as a personal injury paralegal before switching over to bankruptcy law. I have seen time and time again that no one ever explains how things work in a personal injury lawsuit. When the wheels go in motion both the defendant and the plaintiff are always confused about what is happening and why. I will try to explain. It will be lengthly so please bear with me. There is also lots of good information for every one regarding insurance matters here.
When someone has been injured and a lawsuit is filed, it is because the insurance company is generally refusing to cover treatments and/or reimbursements for injury. It is usually a matter that the person who is injured (thier attorney) and the insurance company are at a stand still. Some attorneys, however, just routinely file suit early in the case. It depends usually on the merits of the case versus what experience the attorney has had with the insurance company in the past on other cases. If the attorney knows from previous cases that insurance company "A" always gives them the run-a- round then they may routinely file a suit to get the wheels in motion more quickly. Another case might be when the statute of limitations is approaching and the insurance company refuses to settle the case. The only recourse an attorney would have would be to file suit or the client would lose the chance for recovery after the bar date.
When you file a lawsuit, you sue the person at fault. Your insurance company then defends you against the suit. If you lose the case, you won't have to pay any of your own money unless the case award exceeds the amount of insurance coverage you have. For instance, if the person you hit was awarded $30,000 and you only have coverage of $10,000, then you would be personally responsible for the remaining $20,000. This is a deficency judgment and the court would grant a judgment against you personally for payment. That is why it is VERY important to be sure your coverage is adequate. I can tell you that in most cases $10,000 to $20,000 is nowhere near enough coverage. Medical bills mount up very quickly as well as loss wages, etc. $50,000 to $100,000 is the minimum coverage you should have.
Often if a judgment is awarded against you it might not be collectable. States vary in what sort of property can be taken to pay a judgment, but in general if you hit someone and the car is titled just in your name (not jointly with your spouse), they cannot collect anything that you own jointly with someone else - including your spouse. For instance, they could not sieze bank accounts, property, etc. owned jointly. Also in most states your homestead property is exempt, as is any 401K plans, annuitys, or other protected retirement accounts. Generally, an attorney will run a asset check to see what types of assets you have. If you really have no "collectable" assets, or if you have very little assets, the attorney will settle a case prior to trial for what the insurance company is willing to offer since it is probably all he is going to get. If you file for bankruptcy, any judgement you would have would be included in the bankruptcy and would no longer be collectable (unless, in most states, the accident was related to alcohol or drugs).
Here is a very important thing to remember when you purchase auto insurance. Be sure and get the Unisured Motorist portion of the insurance. If you are injured in an accident, unisured motorist is not only if the other party does not have insurance, but it is also "UNDER" INSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE. In other words, if you are injured and the other person does not have the means to pay any deficiency judgment, your insurance will make up the rest up to the maximum amount of insurance you cover. For instance, lets say you were severely injured, hospitalized, had surgery and were unable to work for several weeks. If the other person had coverage of $30,000 but your medical bills and lost wages totaled $100,000 you would be short $70,000. If you carried unisured motorist insurance of $100,000 you may collect the balance of $70,000. Even in minor accidents you have no idea of how quickly medical bills add up.
I have never worked on a case where a lawsuit was filed that the case did not go for at least 6-7 months, but 1 year-18 months is more the normal. We have had many cases go 3 years, some even more. It is a long haul for all parties involved!
Another thing I can tell you is this. Don't get too comfortable with the idea that this person might have pre-existing conditions. Pre- existing conditions does not mean that they don't have a case. Awards are made everyday in pre-existing conditions. If someone had a previous injury but the next accident made it worst, he is entitled to compensation and medical bills for the worstening condition. Lets say someone had a back injury from a previous accident. They then are in another accident and new x-rays/mri's show there is now a herniated disk since the old accident. If his physicians can testify that the herniation was not there before the new accident, but it was after the 2nd accident and, that in thier professional opinion resulted in the herniation, he could be awarded the costs of medical treatment, surgery, pain and suffering, loss wages, etc.
Almost always in a lawsuit is a seperate count if the person who is injured is married. You might notice that the suit lists both husband and wife even if only one of them was in the accident. That is because there is a count in the suit for "loss of consortium". That means that the spouse also has suffered loss or companionship due to the accident. Among those things might be that due to pain the other spouse is unable to perform sexually, may not be able to be the companion they once were because they can't tend to household chores, etc. as they once could or are irritable, etc. As you can see there is a lot to it all.
In general, I would not worry at this point if you feel that you have sufficient coverage for this accident. If you are unsure, then I would highly recommend that you contact a personal injury attorney who specializes both in defending the defendants in the case and who has a good background in bankrupcy matters. A consultation would put your mind at ease and determine if you need to get your ducks in a row or if all is well in the case. Remember this: insurance companies will act like they are your best friends. They are not! They will look after thier own interest and hang you out to dry in a minute. They will only look at the dollars and cents...not a the human interest.
Best of luck to you! As I said, I can't offer legal advice and every state has differant laws, but and if you need any other general explainations or clearifications of terms, feel free to email me. Attorney's use words and phrases so often that they forget not everyone knows the lingo. You might feel everyone around you is talking in code!
-- Karen (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 09, 2002.
Karen, thanks for the info. You cleared up some things I was unsure of. Our coverage was for $100,000; which our lawyer thinks is adequate. He was also surprised that the other woman's husband was NOT named in the suit. If the other lawyer did an assets check on us, he would have found that we own nothing of any major value--no property, expensive vehicles, etc. Yet they are asking for $400,000! I do not see how they will get it.
I also would encourage anyone to get plenty of coverage. You never know when you might need it.
-- Cathy N. (eastern Ontario) (email@example.com), April 09, 2002.
Better yet you need to file a Homestead excemption on your property. That being filed means: your house, one vehicle and any tools you use to make a living are excempt from any law suit. This usually costs 5 dollars and must be filed with the deed to your home. If you don't have it yet--file it tomorrow !
-- Joel Rosen (JoelnBecky@webtv.net), April 10, 2002.
The lawsuit itself is usually for the maximum amount allowed under law for the set of circumstances. It does not mean that the person you hit has damages of $400,000 - only that they want to fall under the maximum category for the type of filing fee they paid.
Unless this person was hospitalized or has some other very severe injuries, you should be okay at having the $100,000 policy limits.
By they way, another note to you and the readers here. Remember that you policy limits are the TOTAL limits paid by the insurance company. That limit is no matter if one person is injured or whether there were 5 people in the car injured. It often happens that if 2 or more people are injured the first person to get his claim in gets the money and the others are out any compensation and then would have no alternative but to sue you personally, of which you would have the obligation to pay out of pocket. To avoid this, try to get some type of "unbrella coverage". If your homeowners insurance, your farm insurance, your auto insurance, etc. is with the same company, request umbrella coverage. This means that the total amount of insurance would be combined for coverage.
Most state, commonwealths, territories, etc. don't have homestead filing. If you live in a location where you do, check with your attorney about filing for the exemption immediately. Generally, however, in most states, after the accident occurs you won't be protected. Your ducks all have to be in a row PRIOR to the accident in order to have protection. But it is a good point to check out. Again, best of luck.
-- Karen (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 10, 2002.
I am zero respect for insurance companies..in 1993 my husband was at a red light in the middle of the afternoon on his way to a business meeting. a 22 year old man who was drunk,and going over 60 MPH, rear- ended my husbands' car. The man had only $25,000 worth of insurance and we had $300,000. 6 hours later, the firemen were able to get my husband out of the car and to the hospital..he suffered severe head injuries which ended his 30 year career as a CEO in manufacturing. The first three weeks his medical bills were over $100,000. Our insurance refused to pay for them..It took 3 years to sue the driver's company for the $25K and another 7 years to sue our own insurance company for the remainder of the policy..in the interim, we nearly lost everything we owned..so much for the security of having "good" insurance! The problem???? My husband had had a concussion from a sledding accident when he was a teen-ager and the insurance company decided that the auto accident was not the cause of the head injury..I never heard of anything so ridiculous in my entire life. They love to take the premium every month but sure hate to pay out a claim. This was with underinsured/uninsured coverage! I am not saying not to have it, karen is right about that, but I am saying that with auto insurance, always be prepared to fight with them, and have a good lawyer because common sense sure isn't in their vocabulary.
-- lesley (email@example.com), April 10, 2002.
Cathy, as a result of being in business and having to collect monies owed me I have at any given time at least half a dozed lawsuits in some stage of litigation and at least a dozen more decided but not collected. Just relax and let your insurance company handle it. That's exactly what they do for a living. You've paid your premiums so let them do their job. I know it's not easy to avoid taking this personally, but it's just another business transaction to all concerned. I hope this helps.
-- Gary in Indiana (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 11, 2002.
Cathy, good luck to you! I think your attorney is right about your coverage. $100,000 is a good amount, especially with the price of cars on the road today!
We are in the middle of a lawsuit also, where a traffic light was out of order. The other driver was cited as being at fault, and her insurance company paid off on Lance's old pickup (not nearly what it was worth, of course, being old - older trucks sell for SO much more than book value around here). THEN she turned around and filed suit for the cost of her vehicle (it was totalled as was Lance's truck), and medical expenses (mostly claiming mental - there were no apparent physical injuries at the scene, and the kids went home with a friend).
There are some wonderful lawyers out there - the one handling our case is a good example. He is very sharp and personable, and I feel certain that if this suit were valid he would advise our company to settle in a heartbeat.
I worked for an insurance company for several years, and I try very hard not to be biased towards them, but there are so many lawsuits out there that are so far beyond frivolous it is pathetic. If we could eliminate just half of those, we wouldn't have to wait years for these things to be cleared up!
-- Christine in OK (email@example.com), April 12, 2002.
Christine, you didn't try to get appraisals/current ads for older trucks in your area? I have seen in small claims where if something can be shown to be more than book value they get more money.
-- GT (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 12, 2002.
Karen, isn't another reason lawsuits are filed (and go to court), even when there are apparently no assests to go after at the time, is to put a claim for any future monies coming to the person through an inheritance or winning the lotto?
-- GT (email@example.com), April 12, 2002.
GT, we looked and came close, but couldn't find any trucks in as good of shape as his. We didn't get a rental car (just didn't have a real need for two vehicles for that time frame), but were paid for one, so we ended up coming close, but really we just weren't in the mood (at that point) to argue. If we had known what was coming ANYWAY, we might have been a little more insistent.
-- Christine in OK (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 12, 2002.