Prince George's County Jury Awards $8M for Death

By Brendan Kearney, Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

A Prince George's County jury awarded $8 million in damages to a woman who brought suit against Allstate Insurance Co. for failing to honor her claim regarding her 23-year-old son's death in a car crash. However, Allstate will only be required to pay $80,000 in underinsured motorist benefits, according to plaintiffs' attorney Laura G. Zois of Miller & Zois in Baltimore.

When the six-person civil jury determined damages, they were not told of the policy's limits, Zois said. She expressed satisfaction with the victory but lamented the hundredfold difference between the jury's assessment and the actual payout. "The most compelling part of this trial is ... how traumatic a loss this was for them, and how serious of a case this is," said Zois. "There's no higher price to pay than the loss of life, and for a parent to lose a child is unnatural. " A first-party bad-faith law would provide an incentive for insurers to settle cases like this one, she added. Zois represented Vicki Pendleton, of Burtonsville, whose son Julian was killed on February 28, 2005.

The accident occurred on Kemp Mill Road in Montgomery County. Julian was riding home from a Washington, D.C., nightclub with a friend. According to Zois, Mahanand bumped the right-hand curb and swerved into oncoming traffic, where his car was struck by an Eastern Potomac Tours bus. The suit originally included the decendent's friend, who sustained only minor injuries as a result of the collision. His insurer, the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, agreed to pay $20,000 to Pendleton weeks before the trial. Allstate waived its right to subrogation, which would have allowed the insurance company to sue the defendant driver for recovery of the eventual payout to Pendleton. Allstate made no settlement offer to Vicki Pendleton, Zois said.

Jordan Jones, in-house counsel for Alllstate, said the jury "ran wild" with the award amount, because the company asserted an assumption of risk defense without arguing damages. "Our defense was that [Julian Pendleton] was a passenger in an automobile where he knew the driver was intoxicated," said Jones. Jones said Allstate was considering an appeal.

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