After Nixing Multiple Settlement Offers, Insurer Is Hit With $850K Verdict

The lawyers for a woman who was injured in a car wreck said they bent over backward to give the defendant driver’s insurer a chance to tender her $100,000 policy limits before taking the case to trial, extending the deadline to respond and going so far as to have the plaintiff’s surgeon speak to the claims adjuster and confirm that cervical surgery would be necessary.

But the insurer, State Farm, never offered more than $22,500 to settle the admitted-liability case; a Cobb County jury decided the woman’s injuries were worth $850,000.

“We paid a significant amount so they could talk to the surgeon, and we let then ask anything they wanted to,” said plaintiffs attorney Robert Glass.

“That’s why we went ahead to trial,” said his Glass & Robson partner, James Robson. “We felt we’d gone beyond good faith. We gave them a golden opportunity to resolve this case.”

Defense attorney John Hannay with Sharon W. Ware & Associates, State Farm’s claims litigation counsel, was not available to discuss the case.

According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers and court filings, the case began when Barbara Martin, now 50, and her 14-year-old daughter, Taylor McKinney, were traveling on Six Flags Drive in a Ford Taurus. A Ford Explorer coming from the other direction, driven by Earthalene Greene Blue, attempted a left turn in front of Martin. The resulting wreck totaled Martin’s car. Martin’s husband took his wife and daughter to the emergency room at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital.

The lawyers said Martin’s neck and back were injured, and McKinney suffered injuries to her arm and elbow.

Blue was cited for failure to yield.

In 2013, Martin filed suit in Cobb County State Court on behalf of herself and Mc­Kinney.

Glass said he and Robson sent a 30-day time-limited Holt demand for Blue’s policy limits in May 2013, but the insurer expressed some doubts that Martin’s injuries were caused by the wreck, asserting that they may have been symptoms of degenerative disk disease.

The lawyers agreed to extend the deadline, and arranged for the claims adjusters to speak to orthopedic surgeon James Chappuis, the first surgeon to examine Martin. Chappuis had recommended a three-level spinal fusion surgery, and in conversation with State Farm affirmed his opinion that the wreck had caused her injuries.

After questioning Chappuis extensively on July 12, the insurer took about a week to offer $22,500, the lawyers said.

A mediation before Greg Parent of Miles Mediation and Arbitration Services failed to resolve the matter, and in March 2015 Martin had surgery to fuse three cervical vertebrae.

Her attorneys sent State Farm a demand letter seeking $800,000, and the insurer countered with the $100,000 policy limit. Glass and Robson then asked for $600,000, but the insurer refused to budge.

“We’re not ‘gotcha’ lawyers,” said Glass. “They had several opportunities to resolve this case.”

One week before the case went to trial, State Farm settled Martin’s daughter’s claims for $14,000.

The pretrial order cited medical expenses of almost $170,000 for Martin. During closing arguments, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said they asked for between $1.6 million and $1.9 million.

The defense portion of the order said that Martin had not been injured to the extent she claimed and that some of her medical expenses were “not reasonable, related, and necessary.”

After a two-day trial before Judge Irma Glover, the jury took about 2½ hours to award Martin $850,000 on July 13.

Afterward, the jury foreman told the lawyers that proposed damages ranged from $300,000 to $1.5 million.

The lawyers praised Hannay’s handling of the case.

“He had a tough case to try,” said Robson. “He put up the best defense he could.”