State Farm Lawyer’s Response to My Trial Report

Regular readers, assuming there are some, may recall my July 30, 2008 post on an Uninsured Motorist injury case I tried in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County.

Yesterday, I received a comment on that blog post from Mark Brown of H. Barritt Peterson & Associates, who was defense counsel in the case. This is a firm of attorneys who are employees of State Farm Insurance and do nothing but defend State Farm and its insureds when they become involved in litigation. I deal with these folks all the time. They are one of the better staff counsel offices out there. They fight hard but are generally reasonable in conducting litigation and easy to get along with. Mark is a nice guy and a talented lawyer who did an excellent job in this case.

I’m talking about this for two reasons. One- my personal belief is that if I will put myself out there and take stances on legal issues and my cases, I should be prepared to stand by those positions. I could have elected to leave Mark’s comment “unpublished”, but I don’t think that’s fair. Also, I strongly believe that there are two sides to every story and that considering and discussing viewpoints that differ from my own can lead to good insights. You learn little discussing issues with people who already agree with you.

At Miller & Zois, we are glad defense attorneys and insurance adjusters read our blogs. We think this shows the quality of the information we provide, and that the legal community knows we will try cases and do the best we can for our clients.

Mark’s additional information about the case is all correct. The client had $60,000.00 in medical bills, including a spinal fusion surgery. I agree that the result was clearly a compromise verdict, since it awarded the medical bills only, and nothing for wage loss or pain and suffering.

I don’t really see where Mark is coming from with the “editorial” comment. The fact is that State Farm argued my client was contributorily negligent and that the surgery was unrelated to the accident. They hired a doctor to write a report saying that.

On the other hand, if Mark was talking about the part where I described State Farm as “an insurer known for its hardball tactics and low settlement offers.” I agree that’s “editorial.” I also stand behind my comments. Ask 100 Maryland personal injury lawyers if what I said is an accurate comment and see how many disagree.

I still don’t understand the settlement offer originally made. State Farm offered $7,000.00 to settle this case before trial. Even if the real value of the case at trial was just the $60,000.00 in medical bills, how on earth is $7,000.00 a reasonable settlement offer? (I am in no way trying to imply that was Mark’s call, by the way.)

Moreover, an offer of the amount of the medical bills would have settled the case well prior to trial. Let’s just pretend State Farm can call this one a win because the verdict didn’t include all the claimed damages. Think about that. The jury verdict is 8.57 times the amount of the settlement offer, without even awarding all the damages claimed. This is what injury plaintiffs and their attorneys are up against.

This is similar to what we wrote in Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog. Ron Miller got a verdict three times the settlement offer in his case, but still “lost”.

Obviously, these offers are made because people take them. Ron is correct that clients often take offers that are too low because they wish to avoid the process of going through trial. I settled a case with State Farm today in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City under such circumstances. But, on the other hand, more lawyers should try these cases when the client is willing. Maybe this would lead to offers more in line with the actual value of cases at trial.

If you are an injured person considering hiring a personal injury attorney, ask the lawyer you are considering how many injury cases they have taken to trial in the last year. The answer will tell you a lot about the quality of the representation you will get.