The family of a former Polk County commissioner who was killed in an auto accident last year has filed a wrongful death suit, the Lakeland Ledger reported Jan. 13. According to the article, Marlene Duffy Young was killed in May when an oncoming driver crossed the center line and hit her vehicle head-on. The driver, William Boyd Johnson, was also killed, and Young’s husband and adult daughter were hurt. Blood tests on Johnson revealed that he had a BAC of .077 (just under the legal limit), as well as Valium and cough medicine in his body.
The wrongful death lawsuit names Johnson’s wife as a defendant, but it also names State Farm, the Young family’s auto insurer, and their insurance agent. According to the article, the Youngs are suing State Farm and the agent because the agent allegedly ignored their request for “stacked” underinsured motorist auto insurance. The Johnsons did not have enough insurance to cover the costs of the accident, and the Youngs contend that State Farm is wrongfully refusing to make up the difference, as it would be required to if the insurance had been stacked as they had requested.
“Stacking” your auto insurance means that the upper limit of your insurance policy increases by the number of cars you are insuring. For example, let’s say you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage with limits of 50,000/100,000. If you have two cars and you do not choose to stack, the limit is 50/100 on each car. But if you choose to stack, the insurance limits double to 100/200. If you have three cars, they would triple to 150/300. This increases your premium, of course. As you can see, this could make a substantial difference to a family like the Youngs, who had three of its members in the hospital at the same time after the accident. The cost of treating even one very serious injury can easily reach six figures.
The Youngs claim that State Farm wrongfully refused to provide the materials necessary to sign them up for the stacked coverage despite their request. Unfortunately, that is not an unrealistic claim. Despite what many people think, insurance companies are not here to help their customers — they’re here to make a profit, like all businesses. When insurance companies have to pay out a very large benefit, some of them look for excuses to avoid it, even when their own contract clearly obliges them to pay. This is called insurance bad faith, and as a breach of the contract you and the insurer both signed, it is illegal.
As a Broward County auto accident lawyer, I advise my clients to treat insurance adjusters politely but never sign, record or admit anything that makes them uncomfortable. And whenever necessary, I vigorously defend my clients from insurance bad faith and other unfair or illegal maneuvers by insurers. If you or someone you love has been victimized twice by an auto accident and an insurance company that won’t do the right thing, my firm, Cohn, Smith & Cohn, can help. To set up a free consultation on your legal rights and your options, please contact us online or call (954) 431-8100.