Tag: miami personal injury

How do you get the money you deserve from an insurance company?

Insurance companies want to make and keep as much money as they possibly can. That means they are happy to take your monthly premiums but are loath to part with any of that money to pay Plaintiffs on insurance claims. They will do everything they can to avoid paying all of what they owe.

Insurance companies pay a fraction of what they owe by betting against the Plaintiff’s lawyer. They bet that the Plaintiff’s lawyer would rather settle the case for a quick buck than fight for the amount that the Plaintiff deserves. So, they offer a fraction of what the case is worth and bet that the lawyer settles it. The insurance company dares the lawyers, “We dare you to walk away from this small settlement off and fight for you client.”

The sad part is, most lawyers nowadays back down from that dare. They accept easy money and leave their clients out in the cold. What’s worse is that the more often lawyers back down, the less the insurance companies are willing to pay. The insurance companies thinks: if I can get $30,000 lawsuits to go away for $2,000, why not make them go away for $1,000.

A few reasons why some lawyers don’t fight for their clients:

  • Many law firms are “mills,” high volume practices that make little bits of money from lots of cases. They don’t practice law, they practice advertise and settle. These law firms sign up clients, beg the insurance company for money, and accept whatever they get. Working up cases goes against their business model. So when they have a client that won’t settle for the crumbs an insurance company offers, the “mill” will usually fire their own client!
  • Filing a lawsuit and litigating a case is difficult and can take up a lot of time. If you file a lawsuit, you have to pay $400 just to file it, you’ll have to write motions, find and speak to witnesses, go to court, and deal with unpleasant people on the other side. Most lawyers would prefer not to go through that headache (forgetting that all of the above is their job description). So they take a discount on justice, their clients suffer, and they call it the price of not having to work.
  • Most lawyers are afraid to go to trial. Once you file a lawsuit, the natural endpoint of that lawsuit is a trial. Trials have high-stakes and require tons of preparation and time without any guarantee that you will win. Plus, to be any good at trial, you have to have a healthy amount of trial experience. The sad truth is that trials are so rare nowadays, that most people who call themselves “trial lawyers” haven’t even tried 10 jury trials. So, when the case starts getting close to trial, most lawyers will try every way they can to get out of trial; typically that means settling for less than the client deserves.

At CHG, we believe it’s time to change the paradigm. A lawyer’s default position shouldn’t be to settle a case, it should be to go to trial. The best way to deal with insurance companies is the same way you deal will bullies: fight them. Dare us to walk away from a crumby settlement offer and fight? Gladly. That’s the only way to ensure that our clients get their full measure of justice.

Put six in the box.

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Recently, a Miami jury awarded $27.7 million in punitive damages to the Pereira family after Judge Schlesinger allowed them to consider whether punitive damages should be awarded in a hit and run accident as a result of a defendant’s failure to stay on scene; a novel concept being that most behavior warranting punitive damages occurs before the wrongful conduct.

It was a Monday night on a one-lane road on Northwest 12th Avenue and Northwest 108th Terrace just before 9:30 p.m. Sixteen year-old Cash Pereira was skateboarding down the street when he was suddenly struck by the defendant, Gabriel Fleuricourt, from his skateboard. While the defendant claims it was an accident, and that he was just trying to pass the car ahead of him, the defendant’s next actions are what contributed to the punitive damages award and young Cash’s death.

The defendant, Mr. Fleuricourt, did not stop. He did not try and help. He did not stay and call the paramedics. Knowing that young Cash did not have anything to stand between his young body and the metal frame of his vehicle, Mr. Fleuricourt still made the wilful and deliberate decision to flee the scene where he had just struck young Cash off his skateboard. He never stopped to render aid to young Cash as he laid on the one-lane road. Stopping to render aid could have made a difference to Cash Pereira’s life. Stopping to render aid could have at least provided young Cash a chance.

In the Daily Business Review published on October 16, 2017, it was reported that prior to allowing the Plaintiff to move forward on punitive damages, Judge Scola, who was substituting for Judge Schlesinger, informed the plaintiff’s attorney that he needed to demonstrate that there was a connection between young Cash dying at the scene, and the defendant’s decision to flee rather than stop and render aid. Judge Scola wanted more support because there is no case law explicitly stating that leaving the scene of an accident warrants punitive damages as a matter of law.

Under Florida law, for punitive damages to be awarded, the plaintiff must prove that defendant “had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury or damage…would result” or “that the defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanton in care that it constituted a conscious disregard of indifference to life [or] safety.” In the plaintiff attorney’s second motion for punitive damages, he argued that a lack of timely medical treatment was the nexus between the defendant fleeing the scene and Cash’s death. This was corroborated by one of the detectives, who told the court that there were approximately ten minutes that passed between the crash and the arrival of the first responders. The detective stated that those minutes are critical and possibly could have saved Cash’s life. Judge Schlesinger granted the second motion for punitive damages, and at trial, the jurors awarded $37 million dollars to the Pereira family, which included $27.7 million in punitive damages.

Take away

When there is no case law on whether punitive damages are permitted as a matter of law, as an advocate, you cannot back down from arguing why you believe your specific case warrants punitive damages. It requires more work. It requires more analysis, but in the end, your ability to think outside the box and think through the facts of your case is absolutely necessary to help your client, and the greater community at large. While compensatory damages are meant to pay your client for what he or she specifically suffered, punitive damages are meant to tell your surrounding community that the conduct in question, like leaving the scene of an accident, will not be tolerated.

Tip your cap to attorney Justin Shapiro for his great work for the family of young Cash Pereira and for the great work that he has done for plaintiff’s all over Miami and Florida. As s result of his passionate and zealous advocacy, plaintiff’s attorneys around the state, and possibly the country, can use Judge Schlesinger’s order as persuasive authority when advocating for punitive damages in hit-and-run accidents.

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