I’ve written here many times about the trouble with insurance companies after a crash involving a large commercial truck. Insurance companies make more money when they don’t pay claims, especially expensive ones involving serious injuries. Unfortunately, tractor-trailer crashes are more likely than other crashes to involve this kind of expensive, serious injury, because when an ordinary car and a big rig crash, the big rig brings much greater force and weight to the collision. As a result, people injured by a trucker’s or trucking company’s negligence sometimes find themselves fighting for any kind of financial recovery at all, at a time when they’re already dealing with serious physical injuries or the loss of a loved one. In Kimbrough v. Safeway Insurance Company of Alabama, Inc., driver Richard Kimbrough fought for UM benefits after a truck crashed into him and fled.
Kimbrough alleges that he was driving through Jackson County when a deer ran across the road. He says this caused a truck driver going in the opposite direction to swerve into his lane, striking his car and running him off the road. The trucker failed to stop and render aid and has not been found. Kimbrough’s right leg, right hand and nose were all broken in the crash, requiring a total of $96,947.70 in medical care. He submitted a claim to Safeway, his insurance carrier, for the full policy limit of his uninsured motorist benefits, $50,000. Safeway denied the claim, so Kimbrough sued for breach of contract and bad faith. Safeway’s eventual motion to dismiss argued that the claim was not ripe until liability and damages have been established. The trial court denied this motion and a motion to reconsider, so Safeway petitioned to the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ directing dismissal of the bad faith claim
The high court denied that claim as well, saying Safeway did not demonstrate that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. Safeway’s claim was based on a prior case, Pontius v. State Farm, in which the high court had required a couple to establish the fault of the uninsured motorist before the trial court could consider their bad faith claim for State Farm’s failure to pay UM benefits. But the high court said ripeness was the wrong doctrine for dismissing the case; Kimbrough’s lawsuit should be heard to decide whether the “phantom motorist” was to blame for the crash. If that is established, Kimbrough can then seek damages based on Safeway’s alleged bad faith. If he can’t establish the phantom driver’s fault, the court said, Safeway could then move to dismiss.
The court also noted that Pontius involved a known uninsured driver, whereas Kimbrough’s case involves a phantom driver. This was in a footnote, but the difference seems important for people suing over semi truck accidents. A requirement to establish damages against a phantom truck driver could lead to lawsuits against John or Jane Does, which seem like a waste of effort and could be dismissed if the defendant isn’t found. It would put more roadblocks between people who have suffered very serious injuries and the compensation they need to pay their medical bills, make up for lost wages and begin moving on. In my Missouri tractor-trailer accident lawsuits, I fight hard to get my clients fair payments for the physical and emotional injuries they’ve suffered through no fault of their own.
If a catastrophic trucking accident has affected your family and you’d like to talk to us about your rights and your legal options, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe. You can reach us through our website or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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