Interesting car accident case reported in South Carolina Lawyers Weekly. Plaintiff was a passenger in a car driven by his grandmother, and a hit-and-run driver T-boned them at an intersection. It was a small accident case: medical bills totaling $3,230 and lost wages totaling $4,352.
State Farm, standing by its insured as always because, you know, you are in good hands, offered $6,500. Typical. At trial, State Farm’s lawyer argued during opening statements that the jury could determine whether what the Plaintiff had already been paid was sufficient. Plaintiff’s accident lawyer objected and the trial judge sustained the objection and later instructed the jury to disregard the setoff argument in its deliberations because any setoff would be handled by the judge.
Another lawyer for the plaintiff argued that “payment” was an affirmative defense that State Farm’s lawyer had not asserted in its answer. This same lawyer also contended that the policy provisions for uninsured motorist coverage made the prepayment a collateral source that was not subject to a setoff.
Money State Farm Pays Before Trial in a UM Case
Setting aside the issue of how it was that two lawyers were trying together a car accident case of this size (will a reporter ever get an answer to a question that I really want them to ask?), I think the latter argument that the payment is not subject to a setoff is just plain silly. State Farm has this policy of cutting a check for what they think they owe in uninsured motorist cases. If State Farm wins at trial or the verdict received is less than the amount they paid, the client gets to keep the money. State Farm does this for complicated policy reasons that make sense in other jurisdictions and they want a uniform policy. It certainly is not out of the goodness of their heart.
All of the Maryland State Farm adjusters think the policy is silly. But suggesting that the money is not a set-off is just inane and gives merit to the argument you know some State Farm adjuster made at some point that “We can’t do this because be can’t trust these plaintiffs’ lawyers.” The trial judge had it right: it is not for the jury to consider.
I do think it is funny that State Farm is trying to assert that it is a contract claim where such things are admissible is incredibly ironic in light of the fact that State Farm fights like crazy here in Maryland to keep out all of the evidence of what their adjuster said or wrote to the injury victim after the accident.
In any event, the jury made clear what it thought of State Farm’s offer, awarding more than six times State Farm offer for settlement. This accident case was then settled after trial for $48,500.
When State Farm gets hit, they say “oops.” Everyone makes mistakes in evaluating claims, right? But if they are making honest mistakes, they should theoretically favor the insured 50% of the time and the insurer 50% of the time. But it seems like when State Farm makes mistakes, they always seem to favor State Farm and never the victim. I’m gald these lawyers stuck in out in a small case will little real upside.