Our White Plains, New York office gets numerous calls and e-mails from clients confronted with a scenario in which they have been sued for more than their insurance coverage, and they receive a notice from the insurance company stating the following: “You may wish to retain a private attorney at your own cost and expense to protect your interests over and above your insurance coverage…” For example, we have represented an orthopedist who was sued for medical malpractice in Brooklyn, New York with a claim of serious injuries as a result of improper back surgery; a client in a Westchester County motor vehicle accident who had a minimal insurance policy ($25,000) and was being sued for more than $1,000,000; and the owner of a beer and beverage mart who was sued in a Dutchess County wrongful death case by the parents of some underage teens in which the teens bought beer at the mart and served the beer at a “keg party”, resulting in the intoxication of a underaged partygoer who lost control of his car and was then involved in a horrific accident causing his death and serious injuries to four other teens.
The answer as to whether you need a private attorney involves a few significant factors. To begin with, in the case involving the Westchester County driver, one of the big issues was whether the injuries were serious enough to result in a verdict which could exceed the car insurance policy limits. In that Westchester County car crash case, the answer to the question was yes, as the policy limits were the smallest available in New York, and the injuries included a broken leg, which without question could result in a verdict of more than $25,000.
Another factor to consider in these lawsuits with claims for more than your insurance is whether the insurance company has properly considered all possible areas of potential insurance coverage which could cover the accident involved. In the Dutchess County wrongful death case, we successfully appealed an insurance company denial of coverage to the beer mart, and were able to require the insurance company to provide full insurance coverage for the accident, and to reimburse our client for the money he had spent in legal fees hiring our firm to battle with his insurance company.
Another important issue in these cases is the county where the case is brought. For example, regardless of the injuries sustained by the plaintiff, a slip and fall case commenced in Brooklyn, for example, is much more likely to result in an excessive verdict than a Putnam County slip and fall, where the jurors are much more conservative in their awards, to say the least.
When we are retained as personal counsel, we are in constant communication with the insurance company by phone, correspondence, and court appearance, making it abundantly clear to the carrier than if a settlement within the insurance coverage is possible, yet the insurance company refuses to settle and our client is assessed a verdict against them which exposes their personal assets, we will litigate this “bad faith refusal to settle” with the insurance company, seeking to hold the insurance company, rather than the client, responsible for this excess verdict.