Last Wednesday, a Macomb County jury returned a verdict of $5.65 million for my client, Tony Broeren. Tony was seriously injured when he was literally run-over by a pick-up truck. For starters, he suffered crush injuries to his leg that have required many surgeries and a traumatic brain injury.
The person responsible for the accident, Roy Bates, was a Chrysler engineer who was driving a Chrysler test vehicle at the time. Under Michigan law, Chrysler was financially responsible for the jury verdict. But due to a quirk in Michigan law, Chrysler was not allowed to be named a defendant in the case.
Still, Chrysler called all the shots throughout the case, hiring the defense attorneys and making all settlement and trial decisions. Meanwhile, the jury was never allowed to know about Chrysler’s involvement. So the case proceeded as if there was an individual defendant — who was also a friend of the plaintiff — as the sole responsible party.
Chrysler tries to play hard ball in settling Michigan personal injury case
As a result, Chrysler took an extremely hard-line position. The lawyers defending the case for Chrysler claimed that a Macomb County jury would never return millions of dollars, no matter how serious the injuries, in a case that appeared to be one individual friend suing another individual friend for a tragic automobile accident.
The lawyers for Chrysler also said that their own Michigan research showed there were no million dollar jury verdicts reported in cases involving individual defendants, meaning there was no corporation named as a party defendant.
In response, I provided Chrysler with two such examples from Michigan Auto Law alone, where juries had awarded million dollar-plus verdicts against individual defendants. I informed the Chrysler defense lawyers that their argument was based upon a logical fallacy: The lack of many million dollar jury verdicts against individual defendants has more to do with the fact that catastrophic injury cases, such as Tony Broeren’s, usually resolve due to the lower insurance policy limits that individuals carry. Therefore, more serious injury cases that would result in multi-million dollar verdicts do not go to trial.
Chrysler ignored my position, repeatedly contending that without the jury knowing the corporation was involved, the case would be portrayed as a friend suing a friend over a tragic car accident, and it simply did not matter how badly the plaintiff had been hurt.
Chrysler won’t settle Michigan personal injury auto accident case
Anthony G. Broeren v. Roy Bates II went through case evaluation in Macomb County Circuit Court, where a panel of lawyers representing both the plaintiff and defense personal injury bars evaluated the case at $2.6 million. The plaintiff accepted the case evaluation award while the defendant rejected. The defendant’s offer to settle was zero.
Next the case proceeded to facilitation, where both sides are required to work with a facilitator in an attempt to resolve matters and avoid the cost and time of trial. The defendant offered $600,000 to settle the case.
The plaintiff wrote in its settlement demand to Chrysler at the time of facilitation: “The case evaluation in this matter was $2.6 million. Plaintiff accepted. The case evaluation did not take place that long ago, and plaintiff has said that they will exercise good faith in working with defendant at facilitation toward a settlement that is fair to both parties…Perhaps, without Chrysler as a named party defendant; a Macomb County jury may only award $5 million in damages. Perhaps not. It is an interesting roll of the dice for Chrysler to chance.”
Trial time: Brain injured client prevails over Chrysler’s tactics
The case proceeded to trial. Chrysler never offered more than $600,000 to settle until the day before trial, when it offered $1 million. The jury returned a verdict of $5.65 million. Keep in mind, Chrysler rejected the case evaluation award of $2.6 million.
Now Chrysler is not only responsible for the $5.65 million verdict, but also must cover interest, costs and attorney fees for the case, according to Michigan law. The final award will be well over $6 million.
Chrysler learns its lesson
This case is notable for many reasons, but most importantly: Chrysler tried to take advantage of a quirk in Michigan law and in essence, aimed to defraud a jury by deliberately portraying the case as a horrible accident resulting in one friend suing another.
The lawyers for Chrysler made no attempt to fairly settle the case beforehand, instead relying upon an unfair generalization of Macomb County juries being conservative in personal injury lawsuits. Fortunately, this Macomb County jury was able to return a verdict that was proportionate to the economic losses and human losses Tony Broeren suffered.
Moreover, the case shows that defendants who avoid responsibility for their harms and attempt to take unfair advantage of Michigan’s auto laws (which state that juries are not allowed to know about insurance or who really pays a verdict) will be held accountable.
The case is an important victory not only for Tony Broeren, but for all Michigan residents who may find themselves in a similar situation one day — forced to trial by a corporation attempting to fool a jury. Additionally, the case serves as an important lesson for corporations and insurance companies who may now think twice before attempting to unfairly exploit the rule that juries are not told about insurance in car accident cases.