Janssen Malloy LLP partner Michael Crowley last week obtained a $250,000 recovery for a client seriously injured when a truck turned left from the middle lane of a three lane, crosstown Eureka street into the moped he was operating. Michael Ripley was in the far left lane of I Street in Eureka, CA, when the defendant truck driver suddenly turned left from her middle lane, literally running over Mr. Ripley, dragging him and the moped for over 50 yards beneath the truck, only stopping because her passenger heard screaming from beneath the truck. Fortunately, an independent witness, watering shrubs in her front yard on I Street, saw the collision and confirmed to the investigating Eureka Police Department officer that the defendant caused the collision and injuries. Mr. Ripley suffered severe debriding injuries to his right leg, which became infected due to the deep nature of his wounds and the dirt from the roadway ground into his tissues. The infection required both hospitalization and skin graft surgeries.
First, Mr. Crowley demanded and received the $100,000 policy limit from the defendant truck driver’s CIG Insurance coverage. He then demanded and received an additional $150,000 under Mr. Ripley’s Underinsured Motorist [“UIM”] policy coverage with his own insurance carrier, Progressive Insurance. The two phases of the Ripley litigation illustrate a common scenario, one in which the inured person is faced with litigating with two separate insurers, the defendant’s and then his own. Because California has an “anti-stacking” provision in its Insurance Code, even though Mr. Ripley paid a premium to Progressive Insurance for $250,000 in Underinsured Motorist Coverage, he was precluded from “stacking” the coverage limits of the defendant’s policy ($100,000) with the limits of his own UIM policy limit. Instead, California’s Insurance Code scheme provides that one’s own UIM carrier gets a dollar-for dollar credit for any settlement recovered from the defendant’s insurer. Thus Mr. Ripley was required to first exhaust the coverage limits of the defendant’s policy in order to even consider making an underinsured motorist claim with his own carrier and was limited to only an additional $150,000 under his Progressive Insurance policy (his $250,000 limit minus the $100,000 recovery of the CIG Insurance limit of defendant = $150,000 from Progressive Insurance). One might reasonably wonder why the underinsured carrier gets such a set-off or credit, when it accepted a premium payment to cover the precise risk of their insured customer being injured by an inadequately-insured defendant, i.e. “underinsured.” It is because the California Insurance Code says so. This is fundamentally unfair and the law should be changed to eliminate the “anti-stacking” provision in the Code, since it only exists to protect the corporate insurance carriers not the injured policy holder who paid the premium. Other states do allow stacking of the defendant’s coverage limits with that of the insured’s own UIM coverage limits, which would be what the ordinary consumer/policy holder/taxpayer thinks they are purchasing.
The above scenario shows the challenges and complexities faced by an injured person, who is faced with multiple phase of litigation, while they are recovering from serious injuries. It is the reason such a person needs the advocacy and skill of experienced trial counsel, who can navigate the client through the rocky path to fair compensation for his/her injuries. The trial attorneys at Janssen Malloy LLP stand ready to assist when such need arises.