SMDA Partner wins 7 figure Verdict

While this blog is normally devoted to all things Long Term Disability, I wanted to give a shout out to my legal partner, Phil Serafini who obtained an outstanding result in a automobile no-fault case.

SMDA was contacted by the mother of a minor who was involved in a serious one car MVA on 7/23/12 one day before a lawsuit had to be filed to force their car insurance company, Home – Owners, to pay her daughter’s Michigan No-Fault Insurance Benefits. Their insurance company denied the claim because at the time of the MVA, the client was 15 years old and driving, contrary to Michigan law, without a parent in the car and her mother had given a statement to Home-Owners that her daughter did not have permission. Her father allegedly made a comment at the scene that could be construed as meaning that his daughter did not have permission as well.
The primary issue for trial was whether the minor had her parents’ permission to take their car on the date of the MVA. If she had taken the vehicle without permission, she would be barred from no fault benefits under MCL 500.3113(a). Her mother testified at trial that Alison had permission and that she wasn’t initially truthful with the Home-Owners adjuster as she was concerned she could go to jail as the owner of the vehicle and be unable to care for her catastrophically injured daughter. Her father testified at trial that Alison had permission the day of the MVA and that he didn’t recall the alleged statement at the accident scene. However, if such statement was made, it would have been directed towards her mother as he initially disagreed with her decision to let Alison take and operate the vehicle without a parent present. Alison’s discovery deposition, now deceased, was read at trial. She also testified she had parents’ permission to regularly take and use the car before and on the date of the MVA.

The key to winning the case was establishing a pattern of use of the vehicle, by the minor while alone, prior to the MVA. A half dozen witnesses testified that they repeatedly saw her driving the car, by herself, to work, school and softball practice over the course of more than a month leading up to the MVA. This pre-accident permissive use of the vehicle was consistent with the trial testimony of the parents and their daughter before she passed away. It was also consistent with the unrebutted testimony of one of the minor’s teachers and her parents that she was on her way to school to take a test when the MVA occurred.

The Jury agreed that Defendant failed to meet its burden of proof that Alison didn’t have permission to take the vehicle on the date of the MVA and awarded the minor $246,897.39 in damages.

Trial lasted three days. The Jury was out two hours. Tom Baker and CJ Schneider represented the Intervening Plaintiffs and were awarded $1,018,466.99 in damages.