The United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently released an opinion affirming a federal district court’s decision to award a Colorado accident victim a $2.25 million verdict against his auto insurance company. The plaintiff had initially sought only the $750,000 policy limit for the uninsured motorist coverage purchased from the defendant, but his successful claim that the defendant unreasonably denied his initial claim resulted in a judgment three times that amount. With the Tenth Circuit’s decision to affirm the lower court’s rulings, the plaintiff will receive the $2,250,000 he was awarded by the trial judge.
The Plaintiff Suffered a Serious Back Injury after He Was Rear-Ended by an Underinsured Driver
The plaintiff in the case of Etherton v. Owners Insurance Company was injured in a rear-end collision in December 2007. Although the damage to his vehicle was relatively minor, he suffered a back injury in the accident and underwent three back surgeries to repair disc damage in his spine. The plaintiff initially sought damages from the driver at fault for the accident and received the policy limit amount of $250,000 in compensation from the other driver’s insurance company.
The Plaintiff’s Initial Insurance Claim with the Defendant
The plaintiff’s insurance coverage with the defendant included uninsured/underinsured motorist protection and covered additional uncompensated expenses from an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver up to a maximum of $1,000,000 (including any amount received from an underinsured motorist). The plaintiff made a claim under this coverage and requested $750,000, his policy limit minus the amount he’d received from the other driver. The defendant denied the plaintiff’s claim, offering only to pay $150,000, one-fifth of his requested amount. After negotiations stalled, the plaintiff filed a breach of contract lawsuit, seeking damages in the amount of his policy limits.
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