Written by attorney Sean Michael Cichowski

Think AIG Is On Your Side After Your Accident?

AIG insurance company (now Chartis) did not think much of Alfonso Garza's Houston truck accident case. In fact, the insurance company thought so little of Alfonso's case that it offered him ZERO pretrial after two and a half years of litigation. AIG and the insurance lawyers it employs at Handlin & Associates changed their minds after the first day of trial -- they increased their offer from zero to $350,000. However, Alfonso and his trial attorneys Vuk S. Vujasinovic and Sean Cichowski rejected this offer. After four days of trial, the jury placed a fair and proper value on Alfonso's case: $734,191. With interest and costs, the verdict is projected to exceed $800,000. This amount is fully collectible from AIG. Here's what happened to bring about this lawsuit: Alfonso was driving his Suburban on Hopper Rd. in Houston, Texas, when a pick up truck driven by Octavio Vega sideswiped the Suburban. The truck driven by Vega was owned by his employer, EMS USA, Inc. This company had insurance with AIG. Alfonso primarily hurt his neck and back, and ended up having a neck surgery. His doctors said he may need back surgery in the future. Alfonso was retired, so he did not claim anything for lost wages. Alfonso, who is retired and does not speak English, did not know where to turn when this insurance company refused to pay any part of his claim. So, he turned to the auto accident lawyers at Vujasinovic & Beckcom to help him. Alfonso ended up having a neck surgery about a year after the crash. Alfonso claimed past and future medical expenses, as well as past and future damages for pain and impairment. Because Alfonso was retired, he did not claim anything for lost wages. The insurance lawyers and the AIG insurance adjuster made fun of Alfonso's case. They denied liability. They mocked him because he hired a lawyer the day after the crash, before seeing any doctor. They said he would not be accepted by a Harris County jury because he did not speak English. They claimed a jury would not believe he was hurt because his lawyer referred him to his first doctor, and because he admitted he did not feel pain until 3 to 4 days after the crash. After almost two and a half years of litigation, AIG and the insurance lawyers refused to mediate the case, and offered Alfonso ZERO pre-trial. They said they wanted to try his case to a Harris County jury. The insurance company's offer of $350,000 came after the first day of trial, after the jury was selected. During trial, VB attorneys were successful in having one of the primary opinions of the insurance company's paid expert - Leonard J. Hershkowitz of Houston Neurology Associates - stricken. After reviewing the VB lawyers' motion to strike, the Judge ruled that the opinion of Dr. Hershkowitz that Alfonso did not need back surgery was NOT RELIABLE and was STRICKEN(a copy of this order is available to anyone who would like it). This case is an example of hard-ball insurance company tactics. The tactics they used in this case include: - Waiting until the last possible moment to make an offer, in an effort to pressure the injured person in to accepting it; - Denying liability throughout litigation when it should be fairly clear that the insured is responsible for the accident; - Running up the cost of litigation, hoping the plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney will drop the case or settle on the cheap; - Hiring unqualified experts (in this orthopedic surgery case, they hired a neurologist when they should have hired an orthopedic surgeon); - Hiring an expert and providing the expert with only part of the case materials, in an effort to skew their ultimate opinion (in this case, they did not show their expert the actual films from the diagnostic testing, nor did they schedule their expert to see and examine Alfonso); - Making arguments to the jury to appeal to what they hoped would be prejudices of the jury members (fortunately this tactic did not work). Fortunately, our civil justice system allows someone like Alfonso to compete on the same playing field as a major insurance company. It seems this Harris County jury saw through all of the insurance company's smoke and mirrors. Plaintiff's Counsel: Vuk S. Vujasinovic, Sean Cichowski ( Vujasinovic & Beckcom, Houston, Texas) Insurance Lawyers: Van Gardner, Tim Casper, Robin Taylor, Kevin Shaw ( Handlin & Associates, Houston, Texas) Based on the verdict amount of $734,191, attorney's fees are $293,676. Litigation expenses are $48,000.

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