A victim who sustained serious injuries in a crash that killed the at-fault driver should not be able to collect more than the insurance policy limit of $100,000 – despite being awarded a $400,000 verdict by the jury.
However, the Montana Supreme Court in Locke v. Estate of Davis did find the insurance company could be bound to that judgment, even though it was not a named party, was not represented by counsel and did not appear in court.
The traffic accident that set off this case occurred in May 2011. Both drivers were traveling on the same road in opposite directions when one driver lost control of her vehicle, veered into oncoming traffic and struck plaintiff’s vehicle.
The driver who lost control of her vehicle died at a hospital hours later. Meanwhile, plaintiff suffered a number of physical and emotional injuries.
The at-fault driver’s estate was open and notice was provided to present all claims against the estate within four months. Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the estate more than 15 months later, and described a plethora of injuries, including a broken hand and soft tissue injuries to her shoulder and back. She also reportedly suffered from depression, anxiety and insomnia as a result of the crash.
She claimed damages exceeded $250,000. However, at-fault driver’s insurer only gave her $16,500 to cover medical expenses. Plaintiff offered a number of times prior to trial to settle the claim against the state for the policy limit, but the insurer refused to settle.
Trial was held and jurors sided with plaintiff, awarding $400,000 in damages plus costs – more than four times the policy limit. Estate filed a motion to amend judgment to reduce the amount to $100,000, or policy limit, citing the fact plaintiff failed to file her claim within four months of the crash. Even though she was well within the statute of limitations to file her personal injury claim, defense argued she did not timely file her claim. Trial court rejected that offer and also denied insurer’s claim it wasn’t bound to the judgment because it wasn’t a named party in the case.
On appeal, however, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part. It affirmed that insurer could be held responsible to pay damages, even as a non-named party. However, the high court ruled trial court erred in denying defense motion to allow the judgment. Although late filing of a claim against a decedent’s estate may be allowed if decedent has insurance, claimant will not be entitled to judgment against estate in excess limits of the insurance policy.
Technicalities like these are why it is imperative for auto accident victims to consult with an experienced lawyer as soon as possible after the crash.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Locke v. Estate of Davis, May 26, 2015, Montana Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Man Pleads Guilty in Fatal North Carolina Car Wreck, May 30, 2015, Charlotte Car Accident Attorney Blog