Our firm is representing the family of Mary Miller, an Ohio native, who was riding on a motorcycle with her husband on I-285. Up ahead a driver insured by Geico got a flat tire. These are the moments where careless decisions have terrible consequences. Instead of pulling his car off to the side of the road, the driver decides to leave his car sitting in the second lane from the right in the middle of traffic and to stand in the roadway to flag down traffic.
Along came a vehicle behind the car and that driver suddenly had to slam on his breaks to prevent striking the Geico driver. Behind that driver is the couple on their motorcycle. Our client hit the breaks but without warning could not stop in time to avoid a vehicle braking from highway speeds to zero in a matter of seconds and his wife was ejected and died from her injuries on I-285.
There were three eyewitnesses to the tragedy and the police knew to immediately charge the Geico driver with improper stopping and vehicular manslaughter.
One would imagine that this is a fairly straightforward case. The Geico driver had a very small insurance policy and so when the family contacted us we were surprised to learn that the Geico claims representative blamed the client for causing his own wife’s death!
We told the client that there must be a mistake and helped him to draft a demand letter and let him know that if they paid the claim, we would remain uninvolved. For some unknown reason, Geico again refused to pay the small policy. More than a month after the deadline to pay the insurance policy limits, the client received a letter saying that they would pay the policy limits only after they found out a law firm was involved.
This is the reality of bad faith in insurance. Bad faith is not about tripwire deadlines and missing demand deadlines by a day, it is about insurance carriers acting with a complete disregard for justice and failing to use common sense. Geico’s driver is charged with vehicular manslaughter and a woman is dead as a result of his actions and yet they have the audacity to blame the widower. Treating people with a fundamental level of respect is a core tenet that all parties to litigation should follow. Bad faith litigation has gotten a bad name in the Fulton County Daily Report recently because some lawyers choose to write articles gloating about how the fleeced an insurance company when they paid a policy a day late. That is not what bad faith laws were intended for.
Insurance companies are businesses and they underwrite risk for a living. When they underwrite risk, they assume a cap on the downside of the bet, the indemnity amount. They should not be subject to larger risk due to trickery. Bad faith litigation should not be based on one missed day or a vaguely worded demand letter. However, when an insurance company sticks its head in the sand when there are three eyewitnesses, twice denies a fair demand, treats the victim like a criminal and then throws up its hands when a lawyer gets involved and says “my bad, here is the insurance policy after all,” that is not fair dealing.
This case will be tried sometime next year and a Georgia jury will decide the fair value of the life of the decedent.