Two self-described “country lawyers” said they delivered a check Friday to an 80-year-old widow whose husband died after being hit head-on while driving home to cook some beans.
The check was connected to a $2.35 million settlement in her wrongful death case against the driver, who crossed the centerline and hit her husband’s Ford pickup truck. James Oxford Jr. of the Oxford Law Firm in Summerville and W. Wright Gammon Jr. of Gammon Anderson & McFall in Cedartown sat down and posed for a picture with their client, Eulene Timmons, holding the check Friday in her trailer.
Her trailer is old. “You could throw a cat through the wall,” Gammon said. But he said she wants to stay on her 3 acres of land outside the northwest Georgia mountain town of Trion.
So she’ll be having a new mobile home delivered—and meeting with financial advisers to protect her money, the attorneys said. Needing a wheelchair and frail herself, she has a daughter and granddaughter who live with her and take care of her. Other family members live close by.
Oxford said the case came to him in the form of a request for a power of attorney, for which he charges a $100 fee. When he asked why the family needed a power of attorney, the story tumbled out. John Timmons, then 80, had been hurt in a wreck and was in the hospital. He had a broken neck, cracked ribs and severe cuts. He was suffering with severe pain, his wife, son and daughter told the lawyer.
As it happened, Oxford had done insurance defense before he went on to work with Gammons in Cedartown, and then eventually to open his own shop in his hometown, Summerville, where he took all types of cases to build a practice.
“I’d like to try and help you,” he told the family. Surprised that help was available, they agreed to try.
After consulting with his old friend Gammon, Oxford made a written demand for the State Farm policy limit of $25,000. A representative replied that the company would require additional notarized affidavits to discuss coverage. Oxford said he called Gammon and said, “I believe we just got a counteroffer.”
Under Georgia law, a rejection of a policy limit demand and a counter offer amounts to a rejection and puts an insurance company at risk of liability for a verdict in excess of that amount on a bad faith claim.
Timmons died in October 2015 at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, 67 days after the crash. The damages: $750,000 in medical bills, $6,000 in funeral expenses, and extreme pain and suffering during those last days, Oxford said.
The family filed a lawsuit in Georgia’s Chattooga County State Court the following January. In October 2016, Judge Jon Dennis ruled that State Farm’s requirement that affidavits be executed before responding to the settlement demand constituted a counteroffer and that no policy limit settlement had been reached. State Farm’s counsel appealed, but the Georgia Court of Appeals declined to review the judge’s order.
Oxford and Gammon said they reached the settlement agreement with State Farm attorney Thomas Curvin of Eversheds Sutherland the day before they were to select a jury. They said their opposing counsel would have been Trevor Hiestand of Waldon Adelman Castilla Hiestand & Prout.
“This is obviously a tragic situation for both involved families, and I think everyone’s glad to get this behind them,” said Hiestand, who represented the driver covered by State Farm, Robert Leitner.
The case is Eulene Timmons v. Robert Leitner, No. 16SCA3484.