Archive for Monday, December 5, 2011

Judge OKs $100,000 insurance settlement in fatal car accident

December 5, 2011

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A Douglas County judge Monday approved a $100,000 settlement in a lawsuit over a 2010 crash on Clinton Parkway that killed a 19-year-old Lawrence woman.

The parents of Mary Grace Paez, a 2010 Lawrence High School graduate, had reached the agreement with Geico, the insurance carrier for Sean Barrett Walker, a 23-year-old Overland Park man.

Lawrence police have said Paez died when her Nissan Sentra that was headed south on Inverness Drive was struck by Walker’s 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee that was traveling west on Clinton Parkway at 1:30 a.m. Oct. 14, 2010. At the time of the accident, investigators said they believed Paez made a complete stop at a flashing red light before she pulled into the intersection. Her car was struck by Walker’s Jeep that had entered the intersection on a flashing yellow light.

Police said Walker was treated for a head injury at the crash scene, and officers obtained a warrant to draw blood from him after he refused to submit to testing. Officer Shawn Gross wrote in a police report he observed a moderate odor of alcohol on Walker’s breath and said Walker’s speech was slurred. Results of the blood test have not been made public, and a toxicology report for Paez was negative for alcohol and drugs.

During the hearing Monday morning, attorneys did not mention any specific details about the accident. Cecilia Paez, Mary Grace Paez’s mother, will be awarded 96 percent of the settlement amount, while her ex-husband, Vincent Paez, will receive about 4 percent. Both amounts will be awarded after attorneys’ fees and costs are deducted, according to the agreement Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild approved.

Cecilia Paez’s attorney James Wisler said in court Monday the $100,000 settlement was the maximum amount allowed under Walker’s insurance policy.

District Attorney Charles Branson has said prosecutors still are pondering whether to file criminal charges against Walker, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a probation violation in an unrelated 2006 Johnson County attempted robbery and battery case.

Comments

biggunz 3 years, 4 months ago

She entered the intersection on a red flashing light and she was hit at a result. Why did her parents get money?

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

Geico was not interested in pursuing the case. It's business, plain and simple.

It's very likely that the lawyers employed by Geico know quite a lot more about the event than this article states. Plus, I'm very sure they've seen a large number of cases where the defendant had a probation offense on record. Juries are not at all sympathetic towards that type of defendant.

So, in the end, they would almost for sure have to pay out the liability limit of the policy anyway, as well as pay their lawyers. That would be a very losing business proposition.

If you would like to offer your legal services to fight the case, contact Geico. They will be more than willing to hand the entire situation over to you, but you will have to sign a massive waiver of liability, as well as post bond that you can cover all losses that you will almost for sure sustain.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

If you really are interested in learning more about how the car insurance industry in general works, and specifically how Geico operates, you are free to read the letters that Warren Buffett wrote to the letters of the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway.

Berkshire Hathaway is the sole and complete owner of Geico.

Warren Buffett's letters to the shareholders are available free of charge here:

http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/letters.html

kawrivercrow 3 years, 4 months ago

First, sorry for the young lady's death.

Secondly, she had a red light, he had a flashing yellow. She caused the accident. Sorry, but that is exactly what happened based on the words in print above.

Third. We need to see a tox report on the male driver. He may have had alcohol on his breath, but unless he blew over the limit, he wasn't even breaking the law. He had a closed-head injury( CHI). You can't do a sobriety exam on someone who just had a CHI. It is a horrific injustice to think that is acceptable. Don't believe me? Let's see how well you do on a neurological exam after you get cold-conked. I've got news for you...you won't do too well.

Again, I'm sorry this young lady lost her life. Fortunately, her reckless driving did not kill anyone else. However, this young man's life will be forever scarred by the events of that night. He was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time when an inattentive driver pulled out in front of him. Until they show a tox report report showing he was above the legal limit AND show his impairment contributed to the crash, he is an innocent victim.

imastinker 3 years, 4 months ago

Your logic doesn't include the cost of litigation into the calculation.

Evan Ridenour 3 years, 4 months ago

You don't know any of the details so your opinion is worthless. By the way, it is highly unlikely the insurance company would settle for that much money if they did not feel they were subject to significant liability. Considering they have all of the facts and we have very little and it is their money on the line not yours, along with the fact that they know what they are talking about legally and you don't... I am going to place quite a bit more worth on the actions of the Insurance company's attorneys.

PS - Even the article itself mentions that they DREW blood from him to test for alcohol and drugs so your comment about sobriety examination is also pointless since he did not take a sobriety exam and was subjected to a blood test of which we do not know the results.

droppinplates 3 years, 4 months ago

Oh the wonders of posting anonymously. Where anyone can say anything and not get their teeth knocked out. Maybe your opinion is worthless. How about trying to be a little more civil.

Evan Ridenour 3 years, 4 months ago

I would say it to that person's face. Calling out the dead person while having zero facts to support your position is pretty tasteless.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

If he was speeding and/or intoxicated, then the most reasonable conclusion is that they were both at fault to some degree.

A flashing yellow light means proceed with caution, and driving under the influence is presumptively negligent, as far as I know.

That may be why the settlement is so low, in fact - $100K isn't much for a person's life.

grimpeur 3 years, 4 months ago

Lotta drunks on the defensive today...

If he was over the limit, his very presence on the road is the crime and cause of the wreck.

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

Not true.

If he was drunk, he is presumptively negligent in his operation of the car. And, if he was speeding and not exercising caution, as he was supposed to do, then he's also partly at fault.

The idea is that both parties share a certain amount of fault/blame for the accident.

For example, if he had been sober and not speeding, he might easily have been able to avoid hitting her.

And, according to the story, she didn't in fact drive "through" the flashing red - she stopped first, and then drove into the intersection.

I agree, of course, that she was partly at fault - she should have waited until he had passed.

guesswho 3 years, 4 months ago

It also depends on how fast he was driving. If someone had been driving the normal speed limit, one could safely pull out in front of him/her. But but if he was driving excessively fast, that would make it not entirely her fault.

Maybe he was driving without headlights.

We don't know enough to judge.

Condolences to the family.

chocolateplease 3 years, 4 months ago

guesswho is right. Since she had a blinking red light, she was free to pull out into the intersection after yielding for traffic. If he was at a high enough speed or had his lights out, she'd be completely innocent. The insurance company would not offer the settlement had they not assigned some liability to the man driving through the yellow light. So, I assume he was at least partly responsible.

droppinplates 3 years, 4 months ago

Regardless on his speed she was required to yield the right of way to him. A red light doesn't mean only yield to traffic doing the speed limit. She obviously did not do that. If his lights were not on then of course he would be at fault.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

Your claim makes no sense!

"Regardless on his speed she was required to yield the right of way to him."

Even if he was approaching the intersection at over 200 mph?

jafs 3 years, 4 months ago

Yes.

And, he would have been easy to see if he had been going that fast.

Of course, he would be guilty of speeding as well.

kawrivercrow 3 years, 4 months ago

If he was guilty of any additional charges or had a significant finding on a tox report, all the above wild speculation wouldn't just be wild speculation.

In medicine, $100,000 is the 'shut-up-and-go-away' figure that is routinely shelled out to frivolous med mal suits because that is the absolute bare minimum it costs to defend a case through the opening day of trial. The same general principles of economics apply here.

Again, I'm sorry she got herself killed, but until I see a tox report and supportive evidence showing him guilty, I'm declaring him innocent in my court of public opinion. You are all free to convict him in your own same court.

It matters because sooner or later one of you or your loved ones may walk out of the Free State Brewery after having some appetizers and an IPA and someone may drive directly into the path of your moving vehicle. You will have alcohol on your breath and you will lilkely do very poorly on the sobriety exam in those circumstances; the rest will be history.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

"If he was guilty of any additional charges"

Yes, he was!

Clipped from the above article: "prosecutors still are pondering whether to file criminal charges against Walker, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a probation violation in an unrelated 2006 Johnson County attempted robbery and battery case."

That won't look good in front of a jury at all!

bad_dog 3 years, 4 months ago

Prosecutors pondering whether to file criminal charges does not necessarily connote guilt of those charges.

And the relevance of a 2006 robbery and battery conviction to a potential vehicular homicide case would be what? How exactly would this prior conviction tend to prove/disprove one of the elements of vehicular homicide (...the unintentional killing of a human being committed by the operation of an automobile, ... in a manner which creates an unreasonable risk of injury to the person or property of another and which constitutes a material deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would observe under the same circumstances.)? K.S.A 21-3405

The first test for admissibility of evidence is relevance. If the evidence is deemed relevant then it is also probative, i.e. it tends to prove something. What element of vehicular homicide is proven by the prior conviction? Even if relevant/probative, the Court will look to see if it's prejudicial effect outweighs it's probative value. In this case, if admitted I suspect (as you concluded) it would be unduly prejudicial.

As to your 2:24 comment, Geico wasn't pursuing this case, they were defending it. Yes, attorney fees are expensive and are often a consideration for settlement, but policy limits are generally tendered when liability is clear (or the potential for an adverse verdict is simply too risky) and to avoid an allegation of bad faith if a plaintiff wins a judgment in excess of policy limits, thus exposing the insured to personal liability.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

Geico paid the money to drop it. The civil case is now closed.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

Next: Criminal charges will become the issue, and that may be an issue for Mr. Walker.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

Nothing in this article mentions legal liability. The only point made in the whole article is that Geico wanted to wash their hands of this matter by paying out what was probably the civil liability limit of the policy held.

Now that Geico's civil liability is out of the picture, legal liability will probably be the next issue to be discussed.

There seems to be quite a lot of confusion on this forum between those two aspects of liability. They are very different.

bad_dog 3 years, 4 months ago

I think perhaps he meant "criminal" rather than "legal" liability but I could be mistaken. He's also mistaken if he believes policy limits satisfy a person's liability. Not the case. That is why insurer's offer several levels of liability limits as well as PELs (Personal Excess Liability) policies. They provide additional levels of coverage; often multi-million, on top of the base policy; usually at pretty affordable prices. You can get them for your autos, homes or businesses.

OK insurance agents, I'll take a 10% referral fee for any new PEL business you write in the next 30 days ;-)

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

The matter is settled once a waiver is signed. And, an insurance company is not going to cut a check until they get that.

How do I know? I was the one that had to sign to get my money!

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

PS: If you still don't understand, look at the back of the check where you have to endorse it.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

You are right, I was thinking "criminal" when I typed "legal". "Legal liability" is actually a rather vague term, and is to be decided by a jury.

And about my personal liability limit, that is a very closely held secret. And you are correct, very high liability limits are not at all expensive if you have a good driving record, are not a young driver, and have a very high FICO score.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

"creates big time problems for Gieco"?

I don't think so. The most Geico could have ever been responsible to pay out for was the liability limit of the insurance policy that had been purchased. However, they would have had to pay their lawyers, of which they have plenty on call.

But yes, it is certainly possible to reject an offer that is offered by the insurance company, and try to personally sue for more. You will need to find your own lawyer for that, however.

I involved in a case exactly like that a few years ago, as an interpreter.

But it turned out that the person that they were trying to sue for a fortune had no assets, but a whole lot of bills, so they ended up accepting an offer from the insurance company. Not nearly what they wanted, so they settled for what they could get.

It was nowhere near as tragic as this disaster, though. The person trying to sue for a fortune claimed he hadn't been hurt at all at the time, refused an ambulance ride to the hospital, called home for a ride, and then decided that he had been injured to the tune of $75,000.

He did NOT get that much, but they did pay out some.

bad_dog 3 years, 4 months ago

Ron, you are incorrect if you believe the most Geico could ever be responsible for is policy limits. If they have an opportunity to settle a case with clear liability within policy limits and fail to do so, thus exposing their insured to personal liability, they are setting themselves up for a bad faith claim.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

That is extremely unfortunate. I think it's very depressing because I grew up in a small town where everyone drives very carefully because if you have an accident, pretty much for sure you will know the other people involved.

It might even be your niece or nephew.

Steve Jacob 3 years, 4 months ago

Lawyer fees, taxes, medical expenses, funeral cost, how much is left? Not that much.

bad_dog 3 years, 4 months ago

Atty fees probably 25-30% unless an hourly fee agreement was chosen. If the atty got the settlement without too much time/expense they may even accept a lower percentage fee. Pretty likely no taxes on an insurance recovery, medical expenses most likely paid by Ms. Paez's insurer, although they might try to subrogate. I don't disagree though, not much left when it wasn't that much to begin with. No matter the amount, it simply does not replace the lost loved one.

Condolences to the family.

Ron Holzwarth 3 years, 4 months ago

That is so very true. If the entire human race were to work together, there is no limit to what could be done to improve ourselves and the world.

Liberty275 3 years, 4 months ago

A young life lost and another ruined and people are arguing over money. That's a sad state of affairs.

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