Friends and Colleagues:
Today, I wanted to share the story of a very brave client of mine and her long, hard-fought battle against State Farm. State Farm's practices of hidden surveillance and paid medical witnesses did not stop an Escambia County jury from seeing the truth and making sure a just verdict was awarded, but even the jury did not get to hear the whole story of what State Farm put my client through-in fact, the jury never even knew State Farm was involved, let alone responsible for how my client was treated because Florida prevents us from telling the jury that the person being sued is not the person making the calls and writing the checks. Our poor jurors think they are awarding money against a little old lady who admitted she made a mistake and caused a wreck. Luckily, the jurors in this case followed the law and awarded a fair verdict.
In 2014, my client was bringing her eleven year-old son home from soccer practice when she stopped at a red light waiting for her turn signal. Before she got her turn signal, she was hit head-on by a driver travelling between 30 and 40 miles per hour who simply left her own lane of traffic and plowed into my client without ever touching her brakes. My client was pregnant at the time. She lost the child and suffered two herniated discs and one torn disc. But this was only where her long road of pain following the injury began.
The driver who hit her admitted it was her fault, and I am sure expected her insurance company to pay the claim. State Farm had other ideas.
For three years my client suffered through physical therapy, injections into her spine, injections into her piriformis muscle, and radio frequency ablations to burn the nerves in her low back so she could not feel the pain caused by that head-on collision. While she worked to get relief and tried to work to help support her family, State Farm worked to make her look like a faker. But that was not so easy to do with this brave, hardworking client.
Before the wreck, my client worked a full time job that included a lot of overtime, routinely working 60-hour weeks. In addition to that work load, she also took side jobs cleaning houses and condominiums on the beach. After the wreck, she could not even keep a lightweight 40 hour a week job. She still had bills to pay, and she still wanted to help her husband support their three boys. So she tried to keep up with the clients she cleaned for on those part-time jobs. She would take her pain medications and clean a house. The next day, she would have to stay in bed. She would recuperate, and then she would clean another house the next week. This pattern of getting by went on for more than two years. And the more she tried to work, the worse her pain was and the more she would need to see her pain management doctor for injections.
Her medical bills climbed to more than $32,000, and her doctors told State Farm that my client's medical bills would continue to grow into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The money my client was bringing in was less than 1/10 of what she brought in before she was injured. She was frustrated and falling farther behind.
When State Farm's attorneys took my client's deposition, she told them how she was trying to make money to support her family. She told them which days she would try to work, where she would go, and how much she would get paid. She showed them her medical bills, and she showed them how much money she had lost because of the injuries she sustained. She gave them access to all of her prior medical records, and she showed them how she had never had any back problems before this wreck. She told them she was frustrated from the pain and that she felt like a bad mom because she couldn't do what she needed to do for her children.
Did State Farm act like a good neighbor and pay for the damages its insured caused? They had issued a $100,000 policy of insurance to the driver who hit my client. This sort of situation is exactly what that lady's insurance was designed to provide for. Despite the fact that its insured driver struck my client head-on, and despite the fact that three different physicians who treated my client swore under oath that my client suffered permanent injuries as a result of that head-on collision and would need future medical care that would cost more than $200,000, State Farm refused to pay the claim.
Instead of being a good neighbor and paying for what their insured had broken and damaged, State Farm resorted to an old playbook of deny and defend. State Farm hired a private investigator to hide in a van in my client's apartment complex and secretly film her coming and going with her children. They followed her driving to her pick-up jobs, and they taped her coming and going over the span of two years. Even though they logged many hours of surveillance time over those two years, they only produced a final edited surveillance tape that was about 20 minutes long and consisted of short little snippets of video that was cut off, sometimes in as few as 10-20 seconds. These little abbreviated clips were shot from the van, from behind bushes and sometimes the investigator actually approached my client and talked to her so that he could film her from his secret "sunglass cameras."
As if these surveillance tactics were not bad enough, State Farm also hired a medical doctor, a medical doctor it has hired many times before, and this doctor had the predictable opinion he has had so many times before: State Farm's car wreck did not cause any permanent or serious injuries. These injections she suffered through were not really necessary, and she does not need any care at all going forward. These are the kinds of tactics that State Farm and many other insurers use against people whose only crime is getting hit by one of their insureds.
One day a client is coming home from her eleven-year old's soccer practice, and the next she is going through physical therapy and injections while the insurance company's private investigators lurk in the bushes trying to catch her doing something they can show a jury in hopes that the jury will think the client is a bad person or is not injured. But what these tactics should show is the lengths insurance companies will go to to deny a legitimate claim for injuries. Insurance companies do this sort of stuff because sometimes it works. Sometimes they can make a jury think a client is not injured. Sometimes they can keep from writing a check.
Well, State Farm will have to write a check in this case.
Although my client offered to settle this case early on for $75,000--an amount far less than she needed to truly cover her medical expenses and lost wages going forward--State Farm declined. Instead, State Farm decided to make its own insured--the lady who hit my client--sit through a four day trial to see what a jury would say about the injuries she caused. State Farm offered my client $25,000. That amount would not even cover my client's $32,000 in medical expenses, would do nothing to compensate her for all of the work she had missed, the work she would miss in the future, or the medical care she still needed just to get by. Obviously, this was an offer she could not accept even if she wanted to. They forced her--and their insured--to go to trial.
How much will State Farm have to pay now? $470,000; plus they have to pay my client's attorney's fees and costs. That's how much the jury thought of my client's testimony, her treating physicians' assessment of her injuries and treatment going forward, and of State Farm's shameful attempt to put up a paid doctor and investigator to, basically, call my client a liar.
And I don't share this verdict because it was a large one. It is not large at all when you consider what this woman went through and will continue to go through. What this verdict tells me, and I hope others, is how wrong it is for State Farm and other insurance companies to try to avoid paying legitimate claims by manufacturing these sorts of defenses.
I have seen insurance commercials boast: "We settle claims within 48 hours." And of course they do because accident victims often do not know how much they are entitled to, and they want to avoid years of frustrating and often offensive questioning, examinations, poking, and prodding only to take the stand at trial and have the insurance company question their integrity in front of a judge and a jury. Fighting an insurance company to the end is not an easy thing to do, and clients are not always willing to be as brave as my client was in this case. I share this story because I am grateful to have such a brave client who trusted us enough to allow us to expose State Farm's sorry tactics. I share this story so that other people who have been injured understand that they can stand their ground and expose an insurance company's bad behavior.
Cases like this continue to motivate me and my fellow attorneys at Taylor, Warren & Weidner to hold insurance companies accountable. It is a good day when we can shine a light on this sort of behavior, and it's an even better day when a jury stands up for a just result.
-- Phil Hall
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