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Most insurance litigation managers wouldn’t send a high stakes personal injury auto case to a lawyer who had never done one before. But that’s exactly what Peter Hancock of The Hartford Financial Services Group did when he recommended giving criminal trial attorney James W. Bergenn his first such trial. It was a case where the insurer had a $1.25 million policy at stake and the plaintiff was seeking over $3.3 million. “It’s thinking outside the box,” said Hancock in a Feb. 20 interview. Hancock and claims vice president Alex Jivan sounded elated that their unconventional strategy paid off. After the plaintiff in a 1997 Westport auto collision rejected the insurer’s offer of $451,000, Bergenn conducted a grueling 22-day trial before Bridgeport Superior Court Judge William B. Rush. It concluded with the six-member jury compromising with its lone holdout by going up from their first award of zero to a ruinous $1,000 “win” for the plaintiff. Bergenn completely convinced five of the six jury members that his client was not at fault. Jury foreman Robert McFarland, of Monroe, said he felt bad that the jury had to award anything, after Rush rejected their first verdict of 50-50 liability with zero damages. Jivan said he was confident Bergenn’s criminal trial skills would serve him well in the civil setting. “A good trial lawyer is a good trial lawyer,” he declared. Hancock, who previously worked as a staff attorney for Allstate Insurance Co., is a veteran of the Northbrook, Ill., insurer’s ongoing campaign to battle without compromise on soft-tissue pain-and-suffering claims from low-speed auto injuries. The bane of Connecticut’s plaintiffs’ personal injury bar, Allstate is scheduled to argue a case before the state supreme court concerning a judge and adjuster’s tiff over settlement differences of $400. While Allstate’s message is that it’s not afraid to go to court over tiny cases, The Hartford, by hiring Shipman & Goodwin’s Bergenn, is signaling that it’s not intimidated by high-risk, big ticket cases, if the plaintiff’s demands appear unreasonable. Hancock said his concern was heightened by the fact that the plaintiffs sought an award in excess of Silver’s policy limits, possibly exposing her to liability beyond her coverage. In the case of Maria Martinez v. Christine D. Silver, the plaintiff, who was wearing lap and shoulder belts and had an air bag, claimed devastating lower back injuries after broadsiding Silver’s Jeep. The defense’s medical experts testified her disc surgery was needed due to slow degeneration separate from the accident. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Maurizio D. Lancia, a Trumbull, Conn., solo, presented an accident reconstruction expert who had to go back and correct his own math during his blackboard analysis. Most of the jurors concluded Martinez was speeding, foreman McFarland said in an interview ten days after the trial’s Feb. 7 conclusion. Hancock says that in the right case, he’d definitely consider sending Bergenn more civil work.

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