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Sebastian County jury tells State Farm safety rules matter

Don and Taylor spent the week of December 1-4, 2015 in Fort Smith trying a motor vehicle collision case. It was a classic example of an insurance company hiding behind their insured. The wreck happened after our client dropped her son off at a Boys and Girls Club in Fort Smith.

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She was headed home with her daughter when another vehicle hit them in the middle of their van on the passenger’s side. An elderly State Farm insured did not look to his left before pulling out of the parking lot of a barber shop. The elderly State Farm insured admitted to violating the safety rule to pay attention.

The collision threw our client toward the point of impact. Her torso got caught in the seat belt. This caused an aggravation of a pre-existing back condition that had given her no pain in over a decade.

Our client reported back pain to the police officer who responded to the scene. Our client's pain intensified overnight and she went to the ER the next day. The ER found degenerative changes in her back; told her she would probably be a little stiff; prescribed anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers; and told her she would probably be fine in a few weeks. Our client took the medication. A few weeks passed. Her pain returned and worsened. She also starting having mild incontinence.

Seven months before the wreck she had seen a chiropractic physician for mild neck pain. So she went back to him three months after the wreck. Her chiropractic physician sent her to the ER on her very first visit. The same degenerative changes were found at the ER as three months beforehand. The most noticeable of these changes were at the same level our client had an old work injury in 1995. Her incontinence problems worsened. She began seeing her family doctor. This resulted in a referral chain to a neurosurgeon; a pain management specialist; a urologist; and a gastroenterologist. Our client also had neck injuries from the wreck. These injuries resulted in a 23% whole person impairment rating.

Before the wreck our client was a hard-working mother of seven adopted children. She took pride in being a big woman. She also coached her children's sports teams; drove and maintained a school bus; enjoyed being a substitute teacher; took occasional family vacations to Ohio and other locations; enjoyed attending her children's sporting events; and kept an orderly home while cooking and cleaning everyday for her family. After the wreck, she began having "accidents" in public. These "accidents" were caused by her incontinence problems. They not only embarrassed her, but also her children and anyone else with her at the time they happened. She learned to avoid "accidents" by not eating. As a result, she lost a significant amount of weight. This negatively affected her self-esteem. A nerve stretch injury was diagnosed in her low back as a result of the wreck. This kept her from being able to sit or stand for long periods of time. The nerve stretch injury eliminated her ability to watch her children's sporting events the way she could before the wreck.

It forced her to quit coaching. It stopped her from adopting a sibling of her other children. It forced others to pick up the physical tasks required of a mother and wife. Our client's dream was to become a full-time teacher of at-risk junior high children. She went back to school after the wreck to become certified. However, her injuries from the wreck forced her to give up this dream. Her only way of being gainfully employed after the wreck was to have an understanding supervisor. She worked several jobs where her supervisor allowed her to take unscheduled breaks as a result of "accidents."

Our client incurred a little under $40,000 in medical expenses when the trial began. She sustained injuries in the wreck that will be with her for as long as she lives. The most State Farm offered was $11,500 despite their elderly insured having only $25,000 in coverage. This is the minimum amount required by state law. State Farm's low ball offer left our client with no choice but to try her case to a jury of her peers. State Farm relied on the jury to give their elderly insured a pass. They counted on the jury to disregard the traffic safety rules that keep us all safe from danger.

Instead, the jury enforced the safety rules. They returned a verdict of $84,500. Clearly, the jury cared much more about the safety of their community than State Farm. The jury cared about a safety rule violation leading to a teacher who could no longer help kids nobody else wanted. The jury cared about a wife who could not help her husband make ends meet as she did before the wreck. They cared about a mom who is less of a mother to her children. They cared about a member of the community who is embarrassed about the person she has become. They cared about protecting the life of one of their own.

What does State Farm care about? They tried to hide behind their insured and get away with it. They also helped sponsor tort-reform legislation during the regular session of the 90th General Assembly in 2015. This legislation would have required injured Arkansans to receive no benefit for the premium dollars paid to their own automobile insurance companies. State Farm cares much more about their own profits than taking care of the people of Arkansas. Does that sound "like a good neighbor"?




Dateline investigation of "paper reviews" used to deny claims

Check out this NBC Dateline series (there are 4 parts), which describes how State Farm and other insurance companies use a "paper review" process to deny claims. Non-doctors write reports that are signed by doctors, oftentimes without review of records by the actual doctor. Doctors sign 30-50 reports in "autograph sessions" without reviewing records, and the reports were often changed after being signed by doctors. The reports were written in a way slanted in favor of the insurance companies to downplay injuries, limit claim payments, and cut care. 

Part 2 of 4:

Part 3 of 4:

Part 4 of 4:

Chipping away at the monolith

I've been fighting State Farm in a couple of federal court cases in east Arkansas. I had to ask the Court to order State Farm to produce its claim handling materials. These are the documents that show whether you get a fair shake from your insurance company. Usually, even if the documents say what they're supposed to (platitudes, we call them), the insurance company didn't follow the guidelines. The judge agreed with my client, and order State Farm to produce those guidelines. There's a good synopsis at the Property Insurance Coverage blog, so check it out.

State Farm case filings skyrocket in Arkansas and the U.S.

I've got a couple of underinsured motorist ("UIM") cases pending against State Farm. One of the allegations in the cases is that State Farm denied my clients' claims because they were following a national policy to force claims into court.

Several books have been published about how insurance companies aggressively revamped their claims departments for maximum profit in the mid 1990's, which was a shift away from fairly paying claims. One such book is called Delay, Deny, Defend. The documents showing how this shift was designed call it a "zero sum game," meaning that where the insurance companies win, the insured people must lose. Of course, artificially lowering claim payouts regardless of merit is bad faith on an institutional level.

In connection with my cases, I've done some research on lawsuits involving State Farm in state courts in Arkansas and in federal courts around the country. Here's the chart of the number of State Farm cases in Arkansas over the past 20 years:  

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 The trend holds true generally for national cases involving State Farm:

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This case filing information is proof that State Farm has ramped up its litigation department in keeping with the delay, deny, defend strategy used by State Farm and other insurance companies.

These are just cases where State Farm was a named party. State Farm is involved in vastly more cases where State Farm stays in the shadows and defends cases against people who caused accidents. It's difficult to determine which insurance companies are involved in these types of cases, since the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts and its federal counterpart, Pacer, don't keep track of the identity of insurance companies in these "third party" cases. This prevents the public from identifying trends about which insurance companies are bogging down court systems across the country.

It sure seems like we need to change our laws to shine more light on these insurance company tactics. At the Chaney Law Firm, we fight to expose bad faith insurance tactics, one case at a time.

Arkansas' non-partisan elections taking partisan, anti-citizen turn


We previously reported on the influence of money in supposedly non-partisan judicial elections here. That post focused on a discovery by investigators that State Farm had lied about the amount of funds it contributed to a judicial election in Illinois. State Farm contributed millions of dollars to a judicial candidate that just so happened to cast the deciding vote overturning a $1 billion verdict against the insurance company for secretly using aftermarket parts to repair vehicles.

Turn now to Arkansas. The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, an arm of the U.S. Chamber that believes "injured people should have limited ability to sue corporations for damages in the court," is getting involved in two appeals court races in Arkansas. Other partisan money (on both sides, mind you) appears to be pouring in. The retired executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission explains in detail why this is a bad idea.

We've also got a page that explains why monkeying with the right to a jury trial — guaranteed by the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by Article 2, § 7 of the Arkansas Constitution — is a bad idea for citizens.  Our current jury system in Arkansas is about local control. Local citizens serve on juries and make decisions about disputes between, most often, their fellow citizens and huge corporations. In many cases, however, corporations already hold an advantage because current rules permit them to hide their involvement.

The courts are the only place where citizens can stand as equals to major corporations. The legal reform sought by the U.S. and Arkansas Chambers of Commerce would further tip the balance of power by limiting the power of our citizens to access the court system. For this reason, we should be suspect of judicial candidates who take action showing they want money from lobbyists, because it's reasonable to believe they'll return the favor by limiting the right to a jury trial.