Rear End Collisions, Auto Insurance Companies and the Blameless Victim
In the 2014 book, The Blameless Victim, by Harold S. Rhodes, we live with a suburban Boston family that was living a normal life before a tractor-trailer driver failed to pay attention and rammed into the rear end of Marcia Rhodes’ Toyota while she was on her way to work.
Marcia suffered a T-12 burst spinal fracture resulting in complete paraplegia on January 9, 2002. The odyssey of Marcia’s complicated and extensive medical treatment, her pain and suffering, her loss of privacy, her husband and daughter’s changed lives, is told through the detailed and frustrated reporting by husband Harold Rhodes, who has devoted his life to being Marcia’s primary caregiver and relentless advocate.
How Do Insurance Companies “Investigate” Serious Car Accidents?
Slowly. What is amazing about Marcia Rhodes story is that there really was nothing to investigate about liability. The driver of the truck admitted he wasn’t paying attention when he rear-ended the Rhodes vehicle. There was a police officer right there, who witnessed the entire incident. And, 99% of the time rear end collisions are considered the fault of the vehicle that strikes the other vehicle from the rear. Oh, and the truck driver admitted his guilt in criminal court.
So, what were Zurich Insurance and AIG Insurance doing? After eight months, they retained a third party, Crawford & Company, to “investigate.” Crawford took its sweet time and then issued a report stating the obvious “liability falls to the driver [of the truck], which is imputed to [truck owner] GAF. We see this [potential case value], universally to all remaining defendants, as between $5 Mil and $10 Mil.”
How Do Insurance Companies Evaluate Personal Injury Damages in Car Accidents?
Slowly. In the Marcia Rhodes case, it took 13 months to review a demand for settlement package that Marcia’s car accident attorney prepared. After Zurich determined that their full two million dollar policy should be offered, they took two months to rely that decision to AIG, who held the umbrella policy, a second insurance policy that is common with commercial vehicles. They did not reveal the “tender” to Marcia Rhodes or her family, however. The two insurance companies then entertained a lengthy discourse regarding who was responsible for the legal fees – all while Marcia suffered physically, and without knowing the legal status of her claims.
The insurance companies also retained their own experts whose job it was to mislead the jury about the medical and rehab services Ms. Rhodes would need and to delay. They were experts at delay.
A Flaw In the Law in Settlement of Serious Personal Injury Claims?
Harold Rhodes points out a serious flaw in the law regarding settlement of personal injury claims when there are multiple insurance policies. In this case Zurich Insurance had a $2 million policy. However, because there was an umbrella policy by AIG, even after full evaluation and determination by Zurich that Marcia Rhodes’ damages far exceeded the policy, the law did not require them to pay that $2 million unless they received a full release of all claims. Since the damages here far exceeded that, and since there was ample insurance from AIG, the Rhodes family had to expend all of their savings, refinance their home, hold off on making necessary handicapped modifications to their home, and live in fear of never getting any settlement, while litigating against AIG, for 10 years.
A Failure to Promptly Evaluate and Settle Motor Vehicle Accident Claims is a violation of the Law
After a lengthy trial, the jury awarded $9.4 million to the Rhodes family in September 2004. (The irony is that the insurance companies had made this same evaluation, years earlier, yet failed to make it an offer of settlement, forcing the family to endure the legal process.) Nevertheless, the nightmare was far from over. The insurance companies files appeals and Marcia Rhodes filed Chapter 93A and Chapter 176D claims against the insurance companies for “failing to promptly effect settlement once liability was reasonably clear.”
The trial of the 93A and 176D claims was in February 2007. That case, by law conducted without a jury, took the judge well over a year to render a decision. And the appeals of that decision, to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Judicial Court, took another three years before the case was finally decided; a total of 10 years!
Why Do the Insurance Companies Fail to Make Fair Offers Of Settlement?
If you read the Marcia Rhodes story, as painfully told by her husband, you may come to the same conclusion the Rhodes family came to about the insurance companies in Massachusetts: “We will delay settlement, and we don’t care if we are punished. You must be willing to go against us for ten years, and we know that you do not have the resources to do so. Take our lowball settlement offer.”
Unfortunately, even in a case where liability is clear, where damages are horrific, where there is ample insurance available, and where the law should provide for a swift and fair settlement, it doesn’t. As a personal injury trial attorney having represented blameless victims like Marcia Rhodes for decades, I can attest to the Rhodes’ family frustrations with the insurance companies and the law. The book gives a real life story showing where changes are greatly needed.