A small law firm in Gainesville negotiated a $3.25 million prelawsuit policy-limit settlement for the family of a stay-at-home mom in a coma after being hit by a car while walking out of a grocery store last year.
And then she woke up.
It’s a rare happy ending in litigation—although it’s not like in the movies, according to the attorneys, Mike Weaver and Dan Parr of the Weaver Law Firm. Their client did awaken after 100 days in a coma, but it has been a slow recovery. When she first opened her eyes, she was still unable to speak or walk. But then after doctors reattached a part of her skull they had to remove because of swelling, she began to improve dramatically.
“It was like someone flipped a switch,” Parr said Thursday.
She was able to begin rehabilitation and is now at home with her family—able to talk and walk with assistance and still improving.
While she was sleeping, her medical bills grew at the rate of about $100,000 a week, Parr said. The hospital put a lien on any future damages recovery, and her lawyers made a policy limit demand for settlement from the driver who hit her—a man in his 70s who said he accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake in his Cadillac when he saw a lady pushing her grocery cart out of the store ahead of him.
He was insured by State Farm but had only $250,000 in automobile accident coverage, Parr said. Lawyers were able to access the $3 million personal liability umbrella attached to his homeowner’s policy.
“He felt horrible,” Parr said.
Weaver and Parr declined to name the client, citing concerns for the family’s privacy. They said they worked out the settlement as soon as possible, without having to file a lawsuit.
State Farm’s lawyer, Mary Trammell of Waldon Adelman Castilla Hiestand & Prout, reviewed the details of the settlement but declined to offer more. “I appreciate the opportunity to weigh in but believe no additional response is needed,” Trammell said by email Thursday.
The demand, often referred to as a “Holt demand,” is statutorily defined (O.C.G.A. 9-11-67.1) as a settlement offer that can be used as evidence of bad faith against an insurer if not accepted, Weaver noted. In Southern General Ins. Co. v. Holt, 262 Ga. 267, 416 S.E.2d 274 (1992), the Georgia Supreme Court held that, where the insurer has full knowledge of the insured’s liability and damages exceeding policy limits, the insurer can be subject to bad-faith damages if its failure to settle within policy limits subjects the insured to a judgment in excess of those limits. With the majority of automobile insurance policies, the insurer possesses exclusive control in deciding whether or not to settle a case—and protect its insured against a potential excess judgment. Accordingly, Georgia courts have held that the insurer has a duty to give equal consideration to its insured when making decisions regarding whether or not to settle a case, Weaver said.
Weaver and Parr said that at the time they made the Holt demand, the medical bills totaled $700,000 and their client was still comatose. It wasn’t hard to argue that the total could go well beyond the policy limits, they said.
“This was a case of clear liability where the damages were going to exceed the policy limits—which is the exact scenario that was contemplated in the Holt ruling,” Weaver said. “State Farm acted quickly and professionally to protect their insured’s interest. If they had not accepted this demand, we were fully prepared to take this case to trial and expected that a verdict would have greatly exceeded the policy limits. And because the hospital agreed to accept a significantly discounted amount to satisfy their lien, our client was left with a sizable recovery.”