Background of Turner v. Hamstead
This was a wrongful death car accident case on Falls Road in Towson (just outside of Baltimore) involving the death of a man in his mid-70s. The Defendant, who we deposed, was a really nice, decent family man who simply made an awful mistake. While driving home, he lost his attention to where his vehicle was and crossed the center line causing this fatal and tragic accident. In deposition, the Defendant claimed that decedent crossed the center line. But it was weird; it was more like he was trying to convince himself than convince me. He didn't.
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The Defendant had a $300,000 policy with GEICO, who did what they do and refused to offer the entire policy. The Defendant’s lawyer for GEICO argued that (1) there was no definitive proof that the Defendant was negligent (he was found not guilty in the criminal trial), and (2) that the decedent’s daughter was not a deserving beneficiary because they had what Defendant’s lawyer politely argued to be a “complicated relationship.” The source of their information was the facts provided by decedent’s live-in girlfriend of many years and her children, a woman stung by the fact that after many years with this man, she had no rights to compensation for his death.
Defendant’s lawyer filed a motion for summary judgment on the survival action because there was no evidence that he had experienced physical pain and suffering before his death after the car accident, and, accordingly, his estate could not recover. We successfully contended in this motion that his pre-impact fright before the accident was sufficient to send the survival claim to the jury.
The significance of this ruling is it increased the potential damages in the case given Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages. This helped us to leverage the potential bad faith claim against GEICO in the event that we succeed at trial. A few days before the trial, GEICO increased their offer to $285,000 and the case settled. Part of what got this deal done was that the Defendant’s lawyer did the right thing and pushed GEICO to increase their offer.
The initial offer in the case from GEICO was $125,000. I always find it annoying when someone says they are “offended” by an offer. But I have to say, I was offended by this offer and I was pretty mad at the GEICO adjuster – someone I’ve had cases with before - who made the offer. After the case settled, we were talking on the phone about another case and this case came up. We discussed – some would say argued – the case for about 30 minutes. The exercise was actually productive, and at least I saw where the adjuster was coming from on this case.
Interestingly, GEICO was a little moralistic about suggesting that as a condition of the settlement, my client should pay back the decedent’s girlfriend for the funeral expenses that she incurred. We refused to make it a part of the settlement, either formally or informally. But our client paid the funeral expenses anyway out of her settlement in the case.Related Links to this Case: