On August 27, 2015, Gary Burger tried an uninsured motorist claim for Christopher Smith and his daughter. We won the case, received the decision last week, and Unique Insurance was ordered to pay a total of $49,930.40 plus costs. There has been no payment to date and we are pursuing a bad faith claim in Illinois under 215 ILCS § 155. Unique treated their insured terribly (and has a reputation for doing so); Unique violated the basic rules of how insurance companies should treat their premium paying customers. Gary will likely seek to expand this case into a class action – so call us if you or a client has had similar experiences. The facts of this case are amazing and show what a hero Chris Smith is – battling both a crazy driver who hit him and Chris’ own insurance company.
Chris was driving his daughter home from school 3 days before Christmas 2012. As they were stopped at a stoplight, a reckless driver rear ended them while playing with his phone. It was a hard impact. Chris exited his vehicle and the other driver offered Chris $1000 to leave. Chris refused and said that he would call and wait for the police. The driver was incredulous at this, yelled and cursed at Chris and acted very aggressively. So, Chris, a security officer with a proper conceal and carry permit, returned to his vehicle and retrieved his weapon. The driver was not dissuaded by the weapon and tried to drive away. Chris reached into the driver’s car, turned off the ignition, and took the crazy driver’s keys. The police arrived and took the kicking and screaming driver into custody. Both vehicles were towed from the scene.
Christopher sought treatment immediately and his daughter treated a few days later. They had care from emergency rooms, MDs, a chiropractor and received MRIs – which showed they both had suffered herniated discs from the crash. They did improve, but Chris and his daughter have continued problems and pain. The impingement on their nerves causes leg pain weakness and numbness. Gary filed a lawsuit in Illinois right away and aggressively pursued the case against the crazy driver and his mother (who held insurance for the car). However, there was an interesting turn of events:The defendant’s mother claimed her son had stolen her car when he crashed into Chris. So, the defendant’s insurance company denied coverage as the crazy driver was not a permissive user of the vehicle. The insurance company filed another case against Chris (which we defended) seeking a declaratory judgment that the crazy driver was not insured. Those two cases are still pending. But that isn’t the bad insurance company.
We made an uninsured claim against Chris’ insurance company, Unique Insurance, as the crazy driver in the car accident had no other coverage. Unique Insurance had promised to pay Chris if an uninsured driver injured him or his family under Illinois law. But Unique refused to answer our letters or talk to us. We told them about the case and Chris’ and his daughter’s damages; we provided medical records, bills, depositions of medical treaters and our clients, MRI films, etc. to support our claim. No written reply or any response from Unique occurred. Ever. Nothing offered to Chris. The adjuster only took one call from us in a year and a half and yelled at Gary the whole call.
Gary filed an arbitration case against Unique. Illinois law mandates arbitration, meaning no jury trial or judge, for an uninsured claim. We tried this case in an arbitration hearing and won handily. The arbitrator gave us all available damages up to the policy limits, and then some. The arbitrator could not award damages for Unique’s bad faith conduct or rule “on whether alleged bad faith from respondent’s failure to response to those demands creates additional liability for claimant’s injuries. In no way should this award be interpreted as a way to bar further proceedings on those potential entitlements in the appropriate form.” Illinois law provides that an insurance company’s bad faith refusal to settle or properly evaluate a claim should be heard by a jury.
Unique’s conduct throughout the claims process was ridiculous. No response, communication or offer – then Unique’s lawyer walked into the arbitration hearing saying “I don’t know why I’m here” as his client had no defense. Unique presented no evidence at trial. Unique’s bad faith conduct is incredibly aggravating to us and Chris. Americans can get numb to companies treating us bad as it happens so often, but Chris and our firm will keep fighting. We will let you know how the bad faith case goes.