Recently, a victim of a violent car crash entrusted Abrenio Law to help pursue her claims. After significant effort, given her catastrophic injuries, we were able to secure a settlement for just under $1.7 million.
The case involved a March 25, 2022, car crash in Northern Virginia. There, the victim was riding as a passenger in a vehicle traveling northbound through an intersection. At that same time, a van was in the southbound turn lane at that intersection. Unfortunately, the van driver failed to yield for the victim’s vehicle as she proceeded through the intersection. He then attempted the turn, but clipped the back end of the victim’s vehicle. The impact caused the victim’s vehicle to flip, and she was thrown to the ground.
What were the victim’s injuries?
Due to the impact, the victim suffered catastrophic injuries. These included a complex head injury, a right femur fracture, a right wrist fracture, and a nose fracture. The victim required significant treatment to include time in the ICU, surgeries, inpatient rehabilitation, and physical therapy. Her medical bills exceeded $750,000.
Despite her injuries, the victim has made a remarkable recovery. Only a year and a half later, the victim is working full time, walking without assistance, and back to normal life. In fact, just recently, she was able to take an overseas trip for vacation.
To be clear, much of the victim’s recovery is credited to her spirit. Despite this horrific crash, she demonstrated rare strength. We know that we couldn’t have done it. She’s a force, and we anticipate that she will go on to do great things in her life.
$1,686,795 is a weird number. How’d you get to that settlement?
The “main” cause of this crash was the van driver who clipped her vehicle as he made an illegal left turn. Though the victim was ultimately offered $986,795 from the van driver’s $1 million insurance limits, it turns out that these amounts were not fully recoverable since the insurer for the van driver paid the victim’s own driver for damage to his car. By doing this, the insurer for the van driver concluded that the victim’s driver was not at fault for the crash at all.
After further investigation (including obtaining a response from a Freedom of Information Act request), we were able to obtain useful evidence to attribute “some” fault for the crash to the victim’s own driver. Specifically, we were able to obtain dash cam video from another vehicle depicting the crash itself. We were also able to obtain police body camera video in which the victim’s driver admitted to proceeding through the intersection with a yellow light.
Virginia is what we call a “joint-and-several liability” state. What that means is if there are two parties responsible for one accident, both are liable for the damages caused by that crash. (To learn more about joint-and-several liablity, click here.) Here, our argument was that the victim’s own driver shared responsibility for the crash, so he was liable, too.
Initially, the insurance company for the victim’s driver denied fault and refused to pay the victim. To support their argument, the insurer pointed to the fact that the van driver paid them for the damage to their vehicle. Under Virginia’s Contributory Negligence rules, they argued, had the van driver agreed that the victim’s driver contributed to the accident, too, the van driver’s insurance would have refused to pay them.
After significant negotiations, we were able to convince the insurer of the victim’s driver that there was a real chance that they would lose at trial, and a jury would find their driver liable, too. We were able to obtain $600,000 in value from their $ 1 million policy. (Of course, had we gone to trial and lost, the victim would have gotten $0 dollars from her driver’s insurance policy. Going to trial would have also extended the case, increased her attorney’s fees and litigation costs, and required the victim to going through the stress of a trial. So, she decided that the potentional gain of going to trial wasn’t worth the risk.)
James, I’m adding up the numbers. Sounds like your settlement included an additional $100,000. Where did that amount come from?
A significant aspect of handling complex injury cases is trying to find “pools of money” to obtain compensation for your client’s injuries. Here, it was undeniable that the victim’s injuries were worth a significant amount of money. So, we asked the victim and her family what types of auto insurance policies they had purchased.
Unfortunately, the victim had no auto insurance herself. However, she did happen to live with family members. Under Virginia’s “stacking” rules of insurance, it’s always important to look to see if there are any “resident relatives” that have their own insurance policies that can be “stacked” for coverage. As it turned out, the victim’s brother had purchased his own under-insured motorist (UIM) policy of $100,000 (Not sure what UIM is? Learn more by clicking here).
On July 1, 2023, Virginia UIM laws changed making it easier to tap into UIM coverage if you elect the right coverage. However, the UIM policy involved in the victim’s case was under the old Virginia UIM framework. After analyzing applicable policies and laws, we concluded that we could stack the victim’s brother’s policy to make the $100,000 in coverage available.
The victim’s case did not involve a typical fact pattern. So, when we approached the victim’s brother’s insurer for the additional $100,000, they disagreed with our analysis. And the denied our claim. Later they agreed that their policy was exposed. However, they also argued that through their own policy language, we’d have to turn around and return the money since we receive settlement from another party. Ultimately, they agreed that we were right, and we were able to obtain an additional $100,000 toward the settlement.
What can you learn from this case?
First and foremost, this case highlights how important automobile insurance is when a tragic accident occurs. Far too often, we get calls from folks that have suffered similar accidents to this one, with similar issues. Later, we find out that there is minimal insurance to cover their claims. While $50,000 in coverage sounds like a lot of money, for an accident like this, it’s a drop in the bucket. Don’t let insurance companies fool you by telling you that you are “fully insured.” Know the coverage you have. Saving $20 a month is great for your cellphone plan. However, when it comes to auto insurance make, you must think differently.
At Abrenio Law, we typically recommend you obtain $1 million in both liability and UIM coverage. The difference in cost from a $50,000 policy is usually just a couple hundred dollars a year. It’s one of the best returns on investment that you can purchase.
Second, pursuing car accident cases is stressful for victims. They are forced to relive their experiences and communicate with adjusters whose main goal is to pay them as little money as possible.
What’s more, pursuing cases to trial takes money, time, and stress. In this case, for example, we had arguments as to why this case was worth more at trial. In fact, we were confident a jury would have awarded our client a higher judgment. The bigger question, though, is whether we would have won in a way that would have required the insurance companies to actually pay – that was questionable.
In this case, the victim chose to forgo her chances at trial. She already obtained more money than she thought she would have, and she did desire to go further given the costs and risks. Ultimately, it is the client’s decision whether to go to trial or settle. While your attorney should help you understand your options, if you have your own case, you make the call.
Lastly, especially for the new drivers out there, seemingly small mistakes can have life-changing implications. These drivers simply (in our view) made misjudgments that led to devastating effects. Pay attention when you drive. It could mean your life.
Still have questions?
Make sure to check out our Personal Injury & Criminal Defense Practice Pages where we’ve answered many other questions you likely have. James Abrenio is a Fairfax-Based Personal Injury & Criminal Defense attorney who practices throughout Northern Virginia. You can learn more about James Abrenio, some of our Prior Results, and Read Our Reviews. Make sure to contact us at Ph. 703-570-4180 for your Free Consultation.