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An insurance company’s delay in settling a $50,000 claim with a car crash victim turned into a $1 million liability. That’s what an Ohio jury has ordered Allstate Insurance Co. to pay the mother of a young woman temporarily rendered comatose by a car crash five years ago. The Summit County jury found that Allstate acted in bad faith, awarding the victim’s mother $1,010,000 in her claim against Allstate on behalf of her daughter, Kara McLaughlin, now 20, who suffered brain injuries that permanently affect her speech and walking abilities. The jury also awarded $1 in punitive damages. Calich v. Allstate Insurance Co., No. 2001-03-1400 (Summit Co., Ohio, Ct. C.P.). The plaintiff’s lawyer, John Smalley, said the mother was initially willing to accept $50,000, the driver’s maximum coverage. However, Allstate kept putting the claim off, saying it needed more facts about the accident before it could settle. “They treated it like they treat all cases, in a cookie-cutter fashion,” alleged Smalley of Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz in Dayton, Ohio. “In many cases, you do want to say, ‘I need medical records,’” Smalley asserted. “But that wasn’t necessary with a girl who was in a coma. There was no reasonable justification for Allstate to refused to have offered to resolve a brain-damage claim.” Marilyn Singer, an attorney for Allstate, said the company plans to appeal, but would not comment further on the case. According to Smalley, his client, Rebecca Calich, initially filed her lawsuit against Allstate after failing to settle the claim with an adjuster 28 days after the crash. The accident occurred on Jan. 2, 1998, when the teen-age driver of the car McLaughlin was in began speeding and lost control. The car flipped and hit a utility pole. McLaughlin, who was in a coma for six weeks with severe brain injuries, was one of five teens injured in the crash. Smalley said that Allstate initially refused to settle, claiming it needed more time to review medical claims and the claims of others injured in the crash. At the time, another attorney, Scott Stewart of Cleveland’s Stewart & DeChant, was handling the case and had given Allstate a March 1, 1998, deadline to settle. But when the deadline passed, Stewart ended up suing the driver. According to Smalley, Allstate eventually agreed to pay the $50,000 in August 1998, but by then Calich had already filed her suit against the driver, Jeremiah McCoy, and his family, which settled for $1,060,000. But instead of paying, Smalley said, McCoy’s family reached an agreement with Calich where it transferred its right to sue Allstate to her. Calich then sued Allstate. Smalley, who specializes in insurance cases and lectures throughout Ohio on bad-faith cases, ended up handling the case because Stewart ended up being called as a witness in the case. DETERMINED LAWYER According to Smalley, what makes this case unique is Stewart’s persistence in going after the insurance giant. “If you think about it, the attorney for Calich was offered the $50,000 in August of 1998,” Smalley noted. “How easy would it have been to say, ‘I’ve been jerked around for $50,000. Let me take it.’ “ However, he refused to do that because he knew that they had wronged his client early on.” Meanwhile, Smalley, who is handling three other suits against Allstate, said he hopes this verdict sends a message to the entire insurance industry. “I hope they think about each claim individually and consider what’s in the best interest of the insured, not what’s in the best interest of the insurance company,” Smalley said. “[Allstate] could have and should have settled.”

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