24 Year Old Breaks Neck When Intoxicated Friend Rolls Vehicle - $232,500

This 24 year old (“Ann”) and her friend were out drinking at a bar one mid-December night. Ann drove them to the bar, but didn’t feel safe to drive home, so her friend offered to drive them home in Ann’s car. The friend lost control on a highway exit ramp driving an estimated 74 mph, rolling the vehicle 4-5 times. Police investigation determined that a combination of excessive speed and excessive intoxication led to the crash. The friend/driver was charged with multiple counts of criminal vehicular operation. Ann suffered a fractured neck at C2 and C7, requiring hospitalization for the first full week, halo bracing for over 4 months, lesser bracing for an additional month, and six full months off work. She also sustained multiple other fractures, including scapular, rib, wrist, and skull, as well as lung contusions, concussion, and multiple lacerations to her scalp. Though damages were uncontested, both liability and coverage questions were involved, including a potential dram shop claim against the bar that served them that night, which Denise Fullerton explored through investigation and experts..

Investigation into the driver’s allegedly intoxicated appearance at the bar, aimed at establishing that she was illegally served alcohol when already “obviously intoxicated,” was hindered by a lack of cooperation from witnesses who were known acquaintances of both Ann and her friend, and were themselves frequent patrons of the bar. As such, liability against the bar hinged solely on the friend’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), contrasted against the bartenders allegation that the friend was not obviously intoxicated, and their assertion that Ann had the last opportunity to avoid her injury by choosing not to let her friend drive her home. The liability challenges limited recovery against the bar to $62,500.

Coverage was explored and established against Ann’s friend. She was ultimately covered as a driver under Ann’s liability policy, as well as by her personally owned policy, both of which were with the same insurer. The combined limits available for the friend’s personal liability was still only $150,000, which the insurer paid when requested.

Ann’s total medical expenses were approximately $97,000, and her lost wages were approximately $20,000. Although nearly 70% of the No-Fault medical benefits had already been paid out to providers, once she was retained Denise obtained the balance of the limits to hold in trust, which were used to pay Ann’s personal medical obligations while the majority of her expenses were processed through health insurance. When the liability claim was resolved, Denise also negotiated a discounted reimbursement arrangement with the ERISA health insurer, which included ongoing access to health insurance benefits for future treatment.

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