A recent decision from the Missouri Supreme Court caught my eye as a St. Louis personal injury attorney. In Schmitz and Ewing v. Great American Assurance Company, the parents of Christine Ewing sued for wrongful death after their daughter died from falling off a portable rock-climbing wall set up at a minor league baseball game. Kathleen Schmitz and Craig Ewing sued Columbia Professional Baseball (CPB) for wrongful death, and CPB’s primary and excess insurers both denied any duty to defend. The parents made a contract with CPB limiting its financial liability to the amounts of its insurance policies, $1 million and $4 million respectively. After the parents won a suit against CPB, the primary insurer paid out less than the full $1 million limit, and the secondary insurer refused to pay because the primary insurance was not exhausted. In this case, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the excess insurance policy did not require exhaustion before it would pay out, allowing the parents to collect the full amount of their judgment.
The parents won their original $4.5 million judgment against CPB in a bench trial. They then filed an equitable garnishment lawsuit against the primary insurer, Virginia Surety, and the secondary insurer, Great American. Prior to the court’s judgment, the parents settled with Virginia Surety for $700,000 and agreed not to seek the full limits of the policy. They then continued the suit against Great American, seeking the balance of the $4.5 million, calculated at about $2.8 million. The court hearing the equitable garnishment case found that they were not entitled to a judgment against Great American because the Virginia Surety policy had not been exhausted. The parents appealed. On review, the Missouri Supreme Court found that the language of Great American’s contract did not require exhaustion — merely an obligation for the first insurer to pay. It also rejected arguments from Great American that the judgment against it was unreasonable. Thus, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for more proceedings.
This ruling is good news for Missouri wrongful death lawyers like me. In essence, it denies insurance companies the opportunity to dodge their legal obligation to provide insurance payments when their customers cause a serious injury. This matters because ultimately, the beneficiary is the injured person or people. After an injury, finances often become a serious problem for injured people, for two interconnected reasons. First, medical care is very expensive, even if you do have health insurance. For a serious injury requiring intensive care or long-term therapy, it can easily reach seven figures. In addition, when the victim was a family breadwinner or provided other services, the family often sees an immediate drop in income — in wrongful death cases, permanently. That’s why, as a southern Illinois injury attorney, I work hard to ensure that clients get the financial compensation they need after a bad accident.
If you or someone in your family suffered a serious injury because of someone else’s negligence, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, send us an email or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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