Thursday, July 22, 2010

No Defense, No Insurance

PennLive.com reports on the civil case from Cumberland, Pa that resulted in a $910,000 judgment for Mary Calvert who was injured when a Pizza delivery driver for Sidotis Pizzeria ran her down.

This is from reporter Matt Miller's story:

"Mary Calvert (nice looking lady, in pic) doesn’t recall much about the crash that left her disabled.  She was trying to cross a Lemoyne street at a crosswalk when a pizza delivery driver came seemingly out of nowhere and ran her down, she said.

'I don’t even remember being in the ambulance,' said Calvert, 61, of New Cumberland. 'The next thing I remember was a month later.  My right side was crushed. They had to staple my head together and remove 3 inches from my leg,' she said.

More than three years after the January 2007 crash, a Cumberland County judge has awarded Calvert nearly $910,000 in damages against the delivery driver and his employer, Sidoti’s Italian Grille and Pizzeria in Lower Allen Township.  The award is large by Cumberland County standards, and it’s unusual in another way.  Sidoti’s and the delivery driver, Jeffrey Viguers, 48, of Fairview Township, did not defend themselves against the lawsuit Calvert filed seeking compensation for her injuries.  Viguers and officials at Sidoti’s, which remains open, didn’t return phone calls seeking comments on the case.

County President Judge Kevin A. Hess, who approved Calvert’s award, said that in his 24 years on the bench he’s never seen a case with such high stakes play out without any attempt at a defense.

"I’ve had some cases that were unopposed but nothing of this magnitude,' Hess said. 'And this was a very serious case. ... This lady went from being an active woman to [using a wheelchair] for the rest of her life.'

Dauphin County President Judge Todd A. Hoover said undefended civil cases are rare in his county, too, usually occurring only when defendants lack insurance.  Lawsuits over traffic crashes often are resolved by settlements in negotiations with the defendants’ insurance companies.

Calvert’s lawyer, Stephen Held, said Sidoti’s lacked insurance coverage for the crash. He said the firm never responded to his correspondence or legal filings, but he spoke with Viguers, who expressed remorse that Calvert had been hurt. Calvert said Viguers’ car insurance didn’t cover him for delivering pizzas.  'I thought they would at least have come in and talked to us,' Held said of Sidoti’s. 'It’s strange, but what can you do? I informed them of all the [court] proceedings. But I can’t force them to come.'

Court records show Viguers paid $257 in fines after pleading guilty to charges of speeding and failing to yield to a pedestrian that were filed by West Shore Regional Police.  Because Sidoti’s lacked insurance, Held said he’ll have to seek to enforce Hess’ damage award by securing a judgment against the firm and its assets, a process that could be more difficult if Sidoti’s files for bankruptcy protection.

Calvert’s insurer has covered her $250,000 in medical bills to date, Held said.

Randy Lee, a Widener University School of Law professor and an expert on civil court procedure, said the Calvert case illustrates why lawsuits shouldn’t be ignored by defendants. Even the uninsured can at least hire attorneys to defend their interests, he said.

Calvert said the crash devastated her life.  'I was a waitress. I would work 10 hours a day with no problem,' she said. 'Now I can’t work. I can’t walk more than two blocks without a cane or a walker. Most of the time I use a wheelchair.'  She added that she can’t pick up the three grandchildren born since the crash. Her doctors told her she’ll need surgeries, including hip replacements, she said.   So the money from Hess’ award, if she ever gets it, 'can’t ever compensate me for my pain and suffering,'Calvert said. 'But at least I’m alive.'
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This is an interesting article because it goes to the social problem of shifting the burden of loss. 

The story should raise a lot of questions in your mind about the risk of uninsured drivers.  How can a business stay in business delivering food or other products when their delivery persons aren't covered for liability to others?  Some state have reformed their laws to address these situations, Pa. needs to address the gap in their insurance and business laws.

8 comments:

  1. The real answer is to stop thinking like a lawyer (more bureaucracy/laws) and start thinking like someone who was actually interested in solving the problem (people with no insurance). Estimates are that between 10 and 20 percent of drivers have no insurance NOW -- and that's before years of grinding Recession cause more and more people to go without.

    The right answer is pay-at-the-pump auto liability insurance -- a per-gallon surcharge that goes into a state liability fund to cover every driver for their liability (so it would not cover the driver or the driver's car in a one-car accident, but it would cover anyone else's property that is damaged).

    The insurance companies would service the claims (which they are efficient at) but would no longer need to market auto liability insurance. All drivers would be covered without fail, and women like this poor lady would never have to worry about being victimized twice, once by a driver and once by a system that has huge gaps built in.

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  2. Walker--
    Your proposal is really quite ingenious, I think you should make sure your idea gets' in front of some policy makers. I greatly approve your idea, I'm sure the Insurance Companies won't like the idea but I can envision a way in which you bargain and select your coverage with your fuel purchase encompassing your premium no matter the company or coverage.
    BL

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  3. The idea is not original with me, though I wish I were smart enough to have created it. I first ran across it reading Andrew Tobias, who tried to get it adopted in CA via an initiative. Needless to say, the insurers spent wildly to maintain their profits. Google "Auto Insurance Alert," Tobias's book on the topic. Sadly, Ralph Nader campaigned against it, because it's a no-fault system -- not recognizing how many of us have the worst of both worlds: no fault AND private insurance. At least with pay-at-the-pump (or Pay-As-You-Drive insurance, as it's known these days) you never have to buy insurance against the risk of someone else having failed to buy insurance (the scam known as uninsured and underinsured motorists' coverage -- just another of the insurance lobby's little scams against the rest of us ... get the legislators to dictate mandatory coverage but force individuals to buy coverage against the gaps created by such an ineffective method of doing liability protection).

    As times get harder and harder, this idea becomes more and more important -- in part because it also has good environmental consequences (it rewards people for driving less, rather than punishing them, as fixed price auto insurance does, by raising the per-mile cost of insurance for low-miles drivers when compared to the high-miles-driven types who create the greater risks and are more likely to be in an accident). Moreover, this tends to reward smaller, lighter cars (weight causes lower mileage and higher damages to other vehicles).

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  4. OurState published data that showed insurance coverage limits at those deemed barely minimum in the 1970s, I can assure you insurance companies are in no hurry to have those minimum coverage limits lifted because of the concomitant need to increase prices will cost them customers. It really is a preposterous state of affairs and only outrageous situations and cases will ultimately generate reform.

    Thank you for your excellent insights on this topic, Walker. I am deeply appreciative.
    BL

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  5. they had insurance

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  6. Insurance is so much into our lives that we cant even think without it!

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. I agree with you Keith, it really is. Too bad I had to learn it the hard way. Now i work for a car insurance company in Dartmouth MA and it is taking even bigger part of my life.

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