As a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident attorney, I was interested to read about a trucking accident case in which the family of three deceased victims had to fight through a trucking company’s bankruptcy to get the compensation they claimed. In Casaccio et al. v. Curtiss et al., Harold Curtiss sued trucking company Hartley Trucking over the deaths of his parents and sister. Hartley Trucking was bankrupt but had insurance through Converium. Another insurer, National Indemnity Co., later agreed to buy all or part of Converium, but failed to appear at the court-ordered mediation in the lawsuit filed by Curtiss. National Indemnity and its general counsel, Joseph Casaccio, were eventually sanctioned for failure to appear at these meetings — but the high court overturned the sanctions.
No details were given about the accident that killed the Curtisses. About two years after it, in May of 2005, Harold Curtiss filed a wrongful death lawsuit in his capacity as the executor of all three estates. The trial court ordered mediation between Curtiss and Converium to be concluded by mid-November. In mid-October, before the mediation, National Indemnity agreed to buy part or all of Converium, an agreement that included a clause gave Converium no authority to settle for more than $500,000. However, no one but Converium’s representative was aware of this, and the representative made a successful settlement offer of $900,000. The representative then revealed that she had no authority, but promised that the offer would not be used as leverage if National Indemnity refused the offer. The insurer refused the offer and made a counteroffer of $350,000, which was rejected.
The trial judge ordered another mediation and instructed the mediator to require the presence of Casaccio as a representative from National Indemnity. He did not appear, claiming that he missed a flight, but appeared by telephone. The judge issued a third mediation in his chambers for the next day, at which Casaccio did appear, and the case ultimately settled for $850,000. At the settlement hearing, the judge sua sponte set a sanctions hearing and eventually awarded a total of $225,000 in sanctions, plus attorney fees, against Casaccio and National Indemnity. As soon as that order became final, they appealed.
On appeal, the West Virginia Supreme Court narrowed the issues to two: Whether the trial court had the authority to impose sanctions in this case, and whether the conduct was sanctionable. West Virginia rules require insurance carriers for insured parties to appear at court-ordered mediations, where that representative has full decision-making discretion. Following precedent from California, the court construed the rule’s authorization of sanctions against parties to include non-party insurers, whose presence is vital for any settlement to be reached. Thus, it held that West Virginia rules require insurance carriers for insured parties to be construed as parties, and thus may be sanctioned for failing to send a fully authorized representative to mediations. However, in this particular case, it found that the conduct of Casaccio and National Indemnity was not sanctionable. National Indemnity received no notice of the first mediation, the high court said, and notice for the second was not “reasonable” because it was effectively only three days’ notice. And National Indemnity’s offer to settle for $350,000 was not made in bad faith because it didn’t know about the first mediation at the time, the court found. Thus, it reversed the sanctions order against Casaccio and National Indemnity.
Despite the reversal of the sanctions order, our St. Louis semi truck accident lawyers still believe the court still scored a major victory for mediation in West Virginia by bringing insurance companies and their representatives under the umbrella of “parties” to a case. As the court noted, the presence of an insurance company representative with authority to settle is vital to the success of a mediation. Insurance companies are usually funding the settlement in injury cases — and especially in trucking accident cases, which often involve very serious injuries carrying high price tags. In this case, the wrongful deaths of three people could have run much higher, depending on any medical costs and loss of income the family suffered. That’s why, as a Missouri big rig accident attorney, I press hard for a fair and full settlement for clients affected by the negligence of a trucker or trucking company.
Carey, Danis & Lowe focuses its practice on wrongful deaths and catastrophic injuries caused by the wrongful actions of a truck driver or trucking company. If your family has been involved in a serious crash with a large truck, don’t hesitate to give us a call. You can send us a message online or call 1-877-678-3400.
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