The Belton Cass County, Missouri injury auto accident injury of Bruce A. Jackson occurred on May 24, 2009.  Our Cass County personal injury law firm represented Phillip G. Long in certain matters in Harrisonville, Missouri.  Our Cass County auto accident lawyers also helped him with his bodily injury claim.  The damage arose from a May 24, 2009 pick-up truck & motorcycle auto accident in Cass County, Missouri.  Mr. Jackson alleged it was the result of Mr. Long’s negligent operation of his pick-up truck as Mr. Long traveled in an easterly direction along Missouri Route 6 in Novinger, Missouri.  Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois (“Safeco”) insured the liability of Mr. Long for this loss.

The automobile liability insurance policy issued by Safeco insured Mr. Long’s liability with limits of Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00) per person.

Mr. Jackson was being represented by a Kirksville personal injury attorney rarely seen in Cass County, Missouri.  By letter dated April 28, 2010, Mr. Richardson made a auto accident settlement demand on behalf of his client of a sum of Three Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($350,000.00).  That settlement demand exceeded the applicable policy limits by a sum of One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000.00).  In his demand, Mr. Richardson very clearly laid out his theory of liability and resulting damages, including the nature and extent of Mr. Jackson’s injuries.  As Mr. Richardson stated, Mr. Jackson sustained auto accident personal injuries including multiple fractures of his right fibula and his left tibia.  The left lower extremity fractures were reduced by instrumentation.  Mr. Jackson also suffered a fracture of his left clavicle.

Mr. Richardson summarized Mr. Jackson’ special damages as follows:

(1.)         TOTAL MEDICAL BILLS & RELATED EXPENSES:       $  82,184.26

(2.)         TOTAL LOST INCOME:                                                13,367.00

(3.)         TOTAL OTHER PECUNIARY DAMAGES:                        13,137.53

TOTAL SPECIAL DAMAGES:                                                     $108,688.79

Mr. Jackson alleged that he would suffer reduced earning capacity in the future, and that as a result, he will suffer a “future loss of income of a substantial nature.”  In Mr. Richardson’s letter, he stated that in the event a Cass County, Missouri auto accident lawsuit was filed, he would retain a forensic economist to more fully analyze Mr. Jackson’s future economic losses.

In his letter, Mr. Richardson theorized a verdict for Cass County personal injury pain and suffering alone of a sum of Three Hundred Sixty-Four Thousand Dollars ($364,000.00), which would be in addition to the special damages of nearly One Hundred Ten Thousand Dollars ($110,000.00).  These numbers totaled nearly Four Hundred Seventy-Four Thousand Dollars ($474,000.00), a sum nearly double Mr. Long’s automobile liability insurance limits.

Mr. Richardson also pointed out in his initial Lees Summit auto accident injury settlement demand letter that, because of the fact that Mr. Long was driving while intoxicated in Raymore and Belton, Missouri (Mr. Long’s blood alcohol content approximately an hour and a half after the accident was .109%), the facts and circumstances of this case supported a conclusion that a punitive damages claim would be submitted to a Cass County, Missouri auto accident jury in this case.  In Cass County, Missouri, a jury may award a Harrisonville auto accident Plaintiff punitive damages where the conduct of the Defendant “showed complete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others”; in such a case, the jury is instructed to award a Plaintiff “any additional amount as punitive damages in such sum as” the jury may “believe will serve to punish Defendant and to deter Defendant and others from like conduct.”

In his letter, Mr. Richardson cited the case, Stoykovic v. Weller, 802 S.W. 2d 152 (Mo. banc 1991), where the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled: “It is important to recognize the purpose of punitive damages to deter reckless conduct could hardly be better served than in alcohol related driving cases.  If an award of ‘smart money’ can have a sobering effect on this Defendant and other like him, its deterrent purpose will be served.”

Mr. Richardson suggested a likely Jackson County, Missouri personal injury punitive damages verdict of as much as Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($500,000.00).

I did not have an opportunity to review the applicable automobile liability insurance policy, but I assumed that it would not indemnify Mr. Long for a Judgment of punitive damages from a Cass County, Missouri personal injury verdict.  Accordingly, not only was Mr. Long clearly at risk of a verdict in a sum in excess of the Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollar ($250,000.00) liability limits, he was likewise at risk to a substantial Judgment for punitive damages from a Cass County, Missouri personal injury verdict.

While I was not provided with a copy of the letter to Mr. Richardson responding to his Three Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollar ($350,000.00) settlement demand, I understood that he corresponded with him on July 21, 2010, where he rejected the Three Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollar ($350,000.00) Lees Summit personal injury settlement demand and submitted a settlement offer of One Hundred Seventy-Five Thousand Dollars ($175,000.00).

In response to his offer, Mr. Richardson had communicated with him by letter of August 6, 2010, stating he now had authority to settle his client’s claim for the policy limits sum of Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00).  In his letter, Mr. Richardson stated that “this is Mr. Jackson’s bottom dollar.”  Mr. Richardson had very firmly advised me of the same.

On behalf of Mr. Long, I thereby demanded that Safeco accept Mr. Jackson’ policy limits demand, and that Safeco enter into an agreement to pay Mr. Jackson a sum of Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00) in consideration for Mr. Jackson’ agreement to release and discharge Mr. Long from any and all liability arising from this Jackson County, Missouri auto accident personal injury.

Safeco had now had sufficient time to thoroughly investigate this claim against its insured, and it now had an opportunity to protect its insured by accepting this policy limits demand.

The Missouri Supreme Court opinion in Zumwalt v. Utilities Insurance Co., 228 S.W. 2d 750 (Mo. 1950) and all cases following it required that Safeco act in good faith as it evaluates this claim.  In doing so, Safeco must consider the financial interests of its insured.  This claim had very clear value in excess of the policy limits, notwithstanding the likelihood of a Judgment for punitive damages.  As such, Safeco was legally obligated to honestly and sincerely negotiate and settle this claim within policy limits and to put the financial interests of its insured ahead of its own financial interests, when it had the opportunity to do so.  Mr. Jackson’ policy limits demand affords Safeco that opportunity.

I asked the auto accident attorney from Jackson County, Missouri to please promptly respond to Mr. Richardson’s August 6, 2010 letter by accepting his settlement demand of Two Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00), to be paid in consideration of a full and final release of all claims against Mr. Long.

The insurance company agreed with our legal analysis and the case settled to the client’s benefit.