Sometimes, what may seem like a minor accident on the surface, can have devastating lifelong effects. Attorney Jeff Gerardi, of the Joye Law Firm realized that was the case when he was contacted to represent a 43-year-old veterinary surgeon from Charleston, who we will refer to as the “client” or “victim” in this article to protect her identity.
Avoidable Collision in Mt. Pleasant Caused by Recklessness
On a beautiful spring day, the plaintiff was driving down Rifle Range Road in Mt. Pleasant, when another driver suddenly pulled out from a driveway. Unable to avoid the accident, the two cars collided. The accident caused the plaintiff’s airbag to deploy. Immediately she knew something was wrong with her right hand, as her right ring finger was crooked. She was transported by ambulance to the Roper Mount Pleasant Emergency Room. In the Emergency Department, it was determined that she had sustained a fracture to her ring finger, she was put in a soft cast and referred to an orthopedic surgeon.
Loss of Potential Earnings Due to Hand Injury
While a hand injury might not be devastating to some, to a veterinary surgeon, it could be career-ending. The plaintiff had dedicated her life to her career. She had a very impressive resume, including graduating from an Ivy League school and working as a veterinary surgeon for some of the top animal organizations in the United States.
At subsequent doctor’s appointments, it was determined that the break was more substantial than they originally thought. There were multiple bone fragments in the hand, and surgery was required to try to repair the damage.
The next week, she had surgery to place a plate and screws in her finger. Over the next few months, while attending occupational therapy, she continued to deal with pain and a limited range of motion. In October, she underwent a second surgery to remove the plate and screws.
Alarming Diagnosis After the Crash
Shortly after the collision, she discovered a lump on her clavicle and her doctor ordered an MRI. The MRI revealed that she had a very rare and life-threatening condition known as subclavian aneurysm.
This condition is so rare, that it affects less than 1% of the population. Trauma is a cause of this type of aneurysm, while there are other causes, none of them applied to the plaintiff. Had she not discovered this prior to the aneurysm rupturing, it could have been fatal.
Two different physicians believed this accident, specifically the blow to her chest from the airbag, most likely caused this problem.
The Importance of Underinsured Coverage
While the at-fault driver’s insurance quickly offered the limits of his liability policy, $25,000, Attorney Gerardi believed the damages to his client went beyond the coverage he carried. At the time of the initial demand, the plaintiff’s medical bills had already reached $44,000, and Gerardi knew that this injury would continue to cause financial strain beyond her initial bills.
The plaintiff’s own insurance policy included $300,000 in underinsured coverage. Despite knowing it’d be an uphill battle, Gerardi asserted that the full underinsured limits should be paid out to his client “It’s very hard to get adjustors to think outside of medical bills,” Gerardi explained.
The way underinsured coverage works is not the same as liability coverage. For example, if you get hit by someone with $25,000 in liability coverage and you have a claim worth $10,000, you can send the carrier a demand for their full limit of $25,000. However, since they have a duty to protect their insured, they’ll try to negotiate that number down. If the carrier does not do everything they can to protect their insured, the policyholder could sue their own insurance company under “bad faith” laws. “Their duty is not to save money, it’s to protect their insured,” Gerardi explains.
Is Underinsured Coverage Mandatory?
Underinsured coverage is completely different. For the injured, this coverage only comes into play after the liability policy of the at-fault party is exhausted. When this happens, the insurance company doesn’t have a duty to protect their insured. That’s because, for all intents and purposes, the victim’s insurance becomes the at-fault party’s insurance. There is currently no law out there establishing that there could be bad faith for first-party coverage. This means it is not common for underinsured carriers to agree to pay their policy’s limits and often these cases go to trial. However, by presenting a compelling argument about the victim’s injuries and future loss of income, Gerardi was able to secure the policy’s full coverage limits for his client.
Insurance policies can be complicated and there are many types of coverage to consider. If you have a policy with liability coverage, then you also have an uninsured coverage policy. This is extremely important due to the number of South Carolina drivers without insurance. Unlike uninsured coverage, underinsured coverage is optional. Therefore, many people decline it to save money. However, this is a mistake. In the short term, saving a few bucks seems like a good idea, but if you get into an accident where you reach the at-fault driver’s coverage limits, you can end up being in a very difficult situation. “The only way you can protect yourself is with uninsured and underinsured coverage,” says Gerardi. “It should be mandatory. We see situations where someone has no underinsured coverage, and they would have been better off getting hit by someone without insurance. Because, then, their own uninsured coverage would kick in.”
South Carolina Attorneys in Pursuit of Justice
In the end, Gerardi was able to get his client’s insurance company to compensate her for the limits of her policy, meaning they paid out $300,000. She will be able to use this money to go back to school and forge a new career path. “She was a great client, so appreciative. She was in tears when I called,” Jeff remarks.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, you don’t have to go it alone. Joye Law Firm’s team of attorneys and legal staff have been representing injured South Carolinians since 1968. We have the experience and fortitude to go toe to toe with insurance companies to get the best results for our clients whether that is through a settlement or in the courtroom at trial. A consultation with our team is always free, with no obligation. Contact us today for your free case evaluation.
Disclaimer: Past results do not guarantee future outcomes.