Jackson Citizen Patriot misses the real story of insurance company abuse
Last Wednesday, a Jackson County jury returned a verdict of $3.5 million dollars for Jim and Kim Fairley. I am so happy for them. The Fairleys are wonderful people and they really deserve this.
The next morning, I was surprised to see my trial verdict on the front page of the Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper.
I had spoken to a reporter for the Jackson Citizen Patriot, Danielle Salisbury, for about 30 minutes on Wednesday night. Unfortunately, what truly makes this case newsworthy the reporter left out of the story. This is a story of insurance company bad faith and arrogance. It is a story of how my clients were terribly mistreated. In the truck accident, Jim Fairley’s mini-van was rear-ended by a truck and pushed into another oncoming truck.
Here’s what I told Danielle Salisbury that did not make it to the front page of the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
Zurich pushes severe injury case to trial – Says Jackson County jurors can’t be fair
The real reason this truck accident case went to trial is because the insurance company pushed it to trial.
Zurich Insurance Company basically agreed from the beginning that Mr. Fairley was seriously injured and would be permanently disabled from work. The defense doctors they hired even agreed he faces a terrible future of permanent pain and increasing disability. This case went to trial because the insurance company, Zurich, said that a Jackson County jury would never return a verdict of over a million dollars for pain and suffering, no matter how badly my client was injured.
Instead, the adjusters for Zurich took the position that somehow Jackson County jurors could not be fair, no matter the evidence and proofs at trial as to Mr. Fairley’s permanent pain and disability, because Jackson County is “too conservative.”
Zurich never offered more than a million dollars to settle the case.
My clients desperately wanted to settle. At Mr. Fairley’s request, we tried several times to resolve this case, including offering Zurich a substantial discount to the case evaluation amount. Case evaluation is a mandatory process in Michigan for all personal injury cases, where an experienced local panel of three attorneys tries to settle the case by putting a “compromise” value that both sides might accept.
Normally, I would never write about settlement discussions with an insurance company. I do so here only because I never had any discussions.
The case went through facilitation (where a mediator works with both sides in an attempt to settle the case) twice.
At the first facilitation, Zurich only offered $500,000. By contrast, the case evaluation number was multiples of this offer. It was an insulting offer.
Zurich then asked for a second facilitation. And after showing up 40 minutes late, the head claims adjuster, a man named Chet Andrews, walked in and said to me that this case would never settle with anything other than a 1 (as in 1 million dollars). The second facilitation ended within minutes. Zurich never raised its offer from the second facilitation, including throughout the trial.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE A BULLY, BE CAREFUL WHO YOU PICK A FIGHT WITH
When Chet Andrews announced this to me, I told the facilitator and the defense attorney that this was the most arrogant thing I think I have ever heard as a truck accident lawyer in 16 years. Knowing that Zurich would not be engaging in any further discussions to resolve the case in good faith, I began preparing for trial (on Thursday I’ll write more about my trial preparation in this case). As I said, a Jackson County jury, after a week and a half of trial, returned a trial verdict of $3.5 million dollars. Sorry Chet.
I am so happy for my clients, Jim and Kim Fairley. They are truly wonderful people. They never asked for this or wanted to go to trial. They desperately wanted to settle, and would have taken a fraction of this jury verdict if Zurich had ever decided to negotiate in good faith.
The only reason this case went to trial is because Zurich forced it to trial. Zurich took the position that Jackson County jurors would be too “conservative” to be able to listen to the (unrebutted) evidence and would never be able to return a fair verdict based upon the facts and evidence of the case. The $ 1 million offered to settle the case was based upon, as one representative from Zurich said to me, no jury in Jackson County “will ever return a trial verdict of more than a million dollars for pain and suffering,” no matter what the evidence was.
The defense attack on the truck accident victim – that did not work
In trial, the lawyers for Zurich (Schiber Trucking is the trucking company that caused the truck accident, but it’s always the insurance company that is hiring the lawyers and calling the shots) embarked on a deliberate campaign to discredit Mr. Fairley and attack his character and good name. As a deliberate ploy and tactic, they made terribly disparaging remarks about Mr. Fairley.
Imagine my surprise the next day to see the Zurich attorney had told the news reporter that he had surveillance of Mr. Fairley walking normally in the news article. First, the surveillance showed him walking with a cane, and secondly, the surveillance in this case was absurd. The defense attorneys had told the jury in opening statement that they had surveillance of him walking without his cane and doing activities that Mr. Fairley had said he was unable to do. We found out during the trial they were spying on Mr. Fairley’s neighbor and another man by mistake. Some surveillance!
There were other moments of deliberate character assassination in this trial. I spent quite a bit of time explaining to the reporter who interviewed me the night of the verdict how not only did Zurich push this case to trial, but how they attacked a man’s good name. Mr. Fairley worked 12 straight years without ever missing a day from work, and most of these “attacks” were, like the surveillance, absurd.
Perhaps in an effort to be “balanced,” the reporter decided to put in the self-serving quotes from the defense attorney for Schiber Truck Company. I would like to believe that the reporter omitted all of what I have just told you because of space limitations in the article. It is hard to understand why, however, she felt an insurance company that refuses to negotiate in good faith and pushes an undisputed catastrophic personal injury case to trial because they didn’t think a Jackson County jury could listen to the evidence and be fair, is less important than the self-serving quotes she included from the defense attorney for Schiber Trucking Company and Zurich Insurance Company.
The real story about the Jackson County truck accident case
Zurich could have settled this case if they had ever decided to negotiate in good faith. And as to the silly comments made by the defense in the news story, let me just say that a jury, having heard all the evidence, answered these silly comments from the truck accident lawyer for Schiber far more eloquently than I can here.
I’ll tell you exactly what I told the reporter about this truck case. This to me, is the real story. This case is about a trucking company that broke many important safety rules. It did not believe that mandatory truck driver laws and regulations apply to them, and they could act above the law. They then deliberately chose as a legal strategy to avoid accepting full responsibility for the harms they caused to trample on the good name of an innocent man who did nothing wrong.
Mr. Fairley was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only thing he did was become catastrophically injured by an unfit truck driver, which is one of the major causes of truck accidents, who slammed into him. Zurich Insurance Company did not treat this man or his wife with the dignity or respect that they, and all people, deserve. During settlement discussions and throughout the trial of this case, they refused to negotiate in good faith, offering a fraction of the case evaluation because they did not think a Jackson County jury could be fair. They deliberately said terrible things about Mr. Fairley that were untrue in an attempt to hold down the verdict.
This is a story of insurance company abuse. All I can say is I am so happy for the Jim and Kim Fairley, and that in this case, real justice was done.
– Steven Gursten is a partner of Michigan Auto Law and one of the most renowned truck accident lawyers in the country. He is past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Litigation Group, and has received the top-reported trial verdict in Michigan for truck accidents. Steve was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his efforts in promoting truck safety.
Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation from one of our truck accident lawyers.