Monday, April 18, 2011

Ohio Drunk Driving Case...And How Insurance Company Tries To Hang EVERYBODY Out To Dry

A recent Ohio car accident case (Caraman v. Bailey) really drives home how some insurance companies will stop at nothing to protect their money.


A Progressive insured driver smashes into and injures another motorist, injuring her. He is intoxicated and leaves the scene. It's his fourth DUI and Progressive is aware of this. The injured driver (known as the "plaintiff") brings a lawsuit against the drunk driver,and includes a claim against him for punitive damages. Under Ohio law, punitive damages can be returned against an intoxicated motorist in addition to damages for the injured person's medical bills, lost wages, and physical injuries (the latter damages are known as "compensatory damages"). Punitive damages are designed to punish a wrongdoer for malicious or reckless behavior (like drunk driving), and are usually not covered in a standard Ohio auto insurance policy.

In other words, if you drive while intoxicated in Ohio and are sued, your insurance company may cover the injured person's "compensatory damages," but you are on the hook personally for any punitive damages a jury returns against you.

So how did Progressive handle the claim and the lawsuit? First, it ignored the plaintiff's attorney's offer early on to settle the case for the drunk driver's policy limits--which were a paltry $15,000. Second, Progressive evaluated the claim by using a software program known as "COA" (read on to learn what this really stands for), which did not include or allow for the plaintiff's herniated disc and spinal cord compression as recognized injuries. However, it did apparantly "recommend" that the plaintiff's claim exceeded the value of their drunk driver/insured's policy.

Third, Progressive even ignored the pleas of the drunk driver's personal lawyer. He advised Progressive that their failure to offer the $15,000 limits was exposing the drunk driver--their own insured--to personal exposure in the form of a punitive damages verdict.


The case eventually marches to trial, and the jury returns a verdict of $20,000 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages, thus exposing the drunk driver to $55,000 out of his pocket, when the claim could have resolved for the $15,000 limits.

The judge ruled after the verdict that Progressive failed to make a good faith offer to settle the case, tacked on interest to the verdict, and upheld the punitive damages verdict.


This case never should have seen the inside of a courtroom, and should have been settled well before it ever got to trial. Progressive essentially ignored everybody in this case--The Plaintiff's attorney, its own insured, and even its own "software evaluation system." It even left its own insured hanging out to dry by refusing to resolve the case and exposing him to huge personal liability.

Progressive dragged this out for one reason, in my opinion: to attempt to save a few thousand bucks. And now Progressive may be facing a lawsuit by its own insured for "bad faith insurance practices" for not resolving the claim and exposing him to losing his personal assets due to the punitive damage verdict he got tagged with.

We hear a lot about "frivolous lawsuits." Yet, when insurance companies take unreasonable positions in indefensible cases, you won't read about it in the local paper. I don't know what Progressive's "COA" injury evaluation software stands for, but I think I can guess: "Cover Our A___." In defense of Progressive, however, this conduct is not all that uncommon, unfortunately. There's plenty of COA to go around.

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