MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT: $1.25 MILLION
Injuries/damages: Spinal cord injury requiring spinal fusion-incomplete paraplegia but ambulatory
Case name: S. Worzalla v. R. Fleck, State Farm
County: Dane County
Case number: settled before filing
Verdict/settlement: Settlement in favor of plaintiff
Amount of settlement: $1.25 million (policy limit)
Date of Incident: Sept. 20, 2008
Place: Town of Bristol, Dane County
Specific negligence of product: Motor vehicle collision (one-car)
Special damages: Past medical expenses: $263,000; future medical expenses: $720,000
Insurance Company: State Farm Insurance
Plaintiff’s attorney: Keith Clifford, Clifford & Raihala SC, Madison
Defense attorney(s): N/A
Plaintiff counsel’s summary of the case: The 17-year-old male claimant was injured while a passenger in the vehicle of a 21-year-old driver. The driver had recently acquired the automobile and offered to take the claimant and two other passengers of like age out for a ride in the new car. During the ride, he turned onto a road none of the passengers or driver had been on before. It was nighttime. The driver accelerated the speed from a dead stop to approximately 80-100 mph, unaware that the road was a dead end. The car flew off the end of the road striking a pile of boulders and a tree.
The driver was charged with three felonies, including reckless endangerment and reckless injury. The insurer attempted to argue that the claimant was contributorally negligent for not maintaining lookout and warning the driver. The claimant met that argument with the simple mathematics of the collision since the rate of speed in feet per second combined with the claimant’s perception/reaction time demonstrated that there was no opportunity to give any warning which might have led to avoiding the collision. As well, a rear seat passenger such as the claimant under Wisconsin law is held to a lesser degree of care then either a driver or a front seat passenger.
The claimant suffered a spinal cord injury which left him wheelchair bound for several months. Ultimately, he regained his ability to walk although with a limp, impairment to running, and functional limitations. An expert witness retained by plaintiffs concluded that in his later years he would likely be confined to a wheelchair as a result of his permanent injury categorized as “incomplete paraplegia.”
The insurer first paid $250,000 under its primary policy as an advance payment. Having exhausted those limits, it ultimately paid the limits under its umbrella insurance policy of $1,000,000. The settlement was negotiated with an in-house adjuster for the insurer.