Anoka County Automobile Accident - Andover, MN
Minor Plaintiff v. Insurance Company
Facts and Legal Principle Involved
This case involved two important legal principles:
1. The effect of Minnesota’s “Seat Belt Gag Rule” in a case where an 11 year old boy lost a significant portion of his colon (possibly due to the seat belt’s impact on his abdomen) in a head on collision. Based on a Minnesota Appeals Court decision that used this “Gag Rule” to bar a claim where the injury was caused by a seat belt, the insurance company for the at-fault driver refused to pay anything in settlement.
2. The impact our claim that the insurance company was acting in “Bad Faith” had in forcing the insurance company to pay its full limits to our client.
Our client was an 11 year old boy who was a passenger in his father’s car, and at an intersection in Andover, MN, Anoka County, the oncoming car illegally turned left against a red arrow, directly into the path of our vehicle. Immediately after this high-speed head-on collision, our client had severe abdominal pain. He was ambulanced to a level one trauma center for surgery. The crash caused a tear in his colon, and a portion of his colon had to be removed. The police investigation faulted the other driver for “Careless Driving” and “Failure to Stop for a Red Arrow”.
The at-fault driver had $100,000 of liability insurance. However, even though this driver was clearly at fault and caused harm well beyond the amount of his insurance, his insurance company refused to pay a penny in settlement, and we had to start a lawsuit against this driver.
The reason the insurance company refused to pay anything was that in 2005, the Minnesota Court of Appeals had ruled that Minnesota’s “Seat Belt Gag Rule” barred injury claims caused by seat belts. In a case named Burck v. Pederson, the Court of Appeals was interpreting a state statute commonly referred to as the “Seat Belt Gag Rule." This law, Minnesota Statute section 169.685, subd. 4(a) states that "proof of the use or failure to use seat belts...shall not be admissible in evidence in any litigation involving personal injuries or property damage resulting from the use or operation of any motor vehicle." The statute has been long been interpreted to preclude all reference to the use or nonuse of a seat belt in an action for personal injuries, but it had never been interpreted to bar an injury caused by a seat belt.
We strongly opposed the insurance company’s reliance on the Burck decision. We argued that the facts in the Burck case were dramatically different than in our case in many ways, including the fact that the injured party in that case had tried to use the seat belt impact to prove their injury. In our case, we did not try to blame the injury on the seat belt. Instead, we obtained an affidavit from our treating surgeon that did not blame the seat belt, but rather the overall severity of the crash.
We also made it clear that if the Insurance Company did not pay its full limits, it would be acting in “Bad Faith’ and that we would pursue the insurance company for more than its $100,000 limits based on the landmark case of cases of Short v. Dairyland Insurance Co., 334 N.W.2d 384 (Minn. 1984) (which I had won before the Minnesota Supreme Court).
An insurance company owes a “fiduciary” duty to the people it insures, which is the highest duty implied by law, and which prohibits an insurance company from putting its own interests before the interests of the people it insures. After Short v. Dairyland, where a liability insurance company acts in "bad faith" by improperly denying settlement offers within its policy limits, the insurance company becomes liable for the amount of damages found against their insured, even when they exceed the insurance coverage.
Based on our strong opposition to the insurance company’s reliance on the Burck decision, including the fact that we had obtained an affidavit from our client’s surgeon that did not blame the seat belt, and the fact that the insurance company would have been acting in “Bad Faith” if it did not pay, the insurance company (that had once refused to pay a penny) now paid our client its full $100.000 limits.
The case had a very favorable outcome for our client, helping to compensate him for the terrible injury he had suffered, and the consequences of losing a portion of his colon.
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