Auto accident victim vs. Hastings Mutual Insurance Company

Michael J. Morse

Case Conclusion Date:March 9, 2010

Practice Area:Car / Auto Accident

Outcome:1st and 3rd party arbitration -$1,003,500.00

Description:Our client, a 36 year old man was struck by the negligent defendant while attempting to make a left hand turn. He reported to the emergency room later that night with complaints of lower back pain. An initial MRI of his lumbar spine was read by the neuroradiologist as L4-5 lumbar disc degeneration. In November 2007, he fell down a flight of stairs when he had a shooting pain from his back into his leg. He injured his elbow in that fall, which required an ulnar nerve release surgery. A subsequent MRI revealed an L4-5 disc herniation. Plaintiff underwent a surgery at L4-5 to remove part of the herniated disc. A lawsuit was filed against the other driver for negligence and against Hastings Mutual Insurance Company for outstanding PIP benefits and underinsured motorist benefits. The third party limits were $100,000 and the underinsured motorist limits were $1,000,000.00. The plaintiff testified that he had a green arrow and the negligence defendant testified she had a yellow light and the right of way. Negligence was hotly contested in this case as were our client’s injuries. The plaintiff had a history of lower back pain radiating into his leg dating to 2003, and had seven prior knee surgeries. It was argued that he had a degenerated spine before the accident and he suffered the herniation in the November, 2007 fall. It was argued he fell because of his unstable knees and because he had a history of falling and suffering injuries on numerous occasions before the accident. After case evaluation, the negligence defendant tendered her policy limits of $100,000. settlement amount. After the underlying negligence case was settled, the parties agreed to resolve the underinsured motorist and PIP actions through binding arbitration. A panel of three arbitrators awarded the plaintiff $903,500.00 against Hastings ($775,000 for underinsured motorist benefits and $128,500 for PIP benefits). Some of the keys to obtaining this arbitration award were: • Motion’s in limine to exclude evidence that Plaintiff was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, had overdosed on prescription medication before the accident and had underwent a psychological examination after assaulting his wife. Hastings argued this was all relevant to show that Plaintiff’s life was not good before the accident and could be used to impeach him. The motions were granted. • Detailed depositions of Hastings’ PIP adjuster and Underinsured Motorist adjuster. After a several hour deposition, Hastings’ PIP adjuster admitted that Plaintiff’s back injury was related to the crash, all treatment should be paid for and if it was not Hastings acted unreasonably. • Economist hired to support excess economic wage claim. • Aggressive cross-examination of Hastings’ expert physician revealing bias and lack of qualification to testify regarding spinal injuries. • An understanding of spinal anatomy, mechanics and how spines degenerate to explain why the back injury was related to the crash and was not degenerative in nature. • Using the specific terms of the contract to enforce the underlying negligence claim.