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An Illinois man who alleged his insurance company paid investigators bonuses for rejecting valid claims won more than $3 million on July 30 in St. Clair County, Ill., Circuit Court. Robert L. Baron Jr., a towboat pilot from Marissa, Ill., sued Bedford Park, Ill.-based Warrior Insurance Group Inc., claiming the company never intended to make good on a $9,500 claim he made when his 1992 Nissan was stolen and burned. Instead, Warrior treated him like a criminal, he alleged. When Baron’s bank called to collect on its lien, Warrior told the bank that Baron had committed insurance fraud. “Claims are getting denied, based not on merit, but on some arbitrary goal,” says Baron’s lawyer, Chris Kolker, who hopes the verdict sends a message to companies like Warrior that tell their employees “to establish fraud in three out of four claims [to] save an average of $6,000 per claim.” Both the Indiana and Illinois departments of insurance have investigated Warrior, which also does business as Valor Insurance Co. and Gallant Insurance Co., each agency reaching $50,000 agreements that effectively settled the matters. What led the jury to award Barron not just $35,000 in compensatory damages but $3 million in punitives (which it arrived at by adding up the salaries of Warrior’s top executives) was the obvious dishonesty of the company’s upper management, says Kolker. “There were so many discovery violations,” Kolker says, referring, for example, to the company’s failure to produce a claims manual. Warrior’s in-house counsel, George Lopuszynski, says the manual, which sets performance objectives for its special investigation unit, would have been taken out of context. He also described the jurisdiction as “difficult” for corporations and says an appeal on “many, many” issues is likely. The parties are awaiting a ruling on punitives for the consumer fraud claim and on legal fees, which Kolker estimates at $160,000. The plaintiff’s attorney was Chris Kolker of The Charles Kolker Law Offices in Belleville, Ill. The Defense attorney was Robert J. Bassett of Donovan, Rose, Nester & Joley, also in Belleville.

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