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Why elderly car accident victims should not be discounted

December 13, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan Auto Law attorney Joshua Terebelo proves that elderly plaintiffs hurt in car accidents are entitled to the same pain and suffering damages as everyone else


One of the most offensive arguments I hear from defense attorneys and claims adjusters throughout the country is that elderly car accident victims aren’t worth as much; that the insurance company should get a big discount on the pain and suffering damages for no other reason than because they’re old.

I’ve even had claims adjusters and defense lawyers say elderly car accident victims are going to die soon anyway, so these cases are worth less.

The worst part about this is that so many other Michigan personal injury lawyers just accept this argument as true.

I think it’s disgusting and offensive. In my own Macomb County wrongful death case stemming from a terrible truck accident that killed an 83-year-old man, I wrote that I tried the case on principle because the Secura Insurance Company claims adjuster told me an 83-year-old man’s life was only worth $250,000. In Shekoski v. Allied Excavation, Inc., a Macomb County, Michigan jury felt differently.  The jury returned $2.5 million verdict for Mr. Shekoski’s family, which was 10 times the number the adjuster for the trucking company said it was worth.

I’ve written and lectured about about the importance of personal injury lawyers helping injured senior citizens and the obstacles many auto attorneys face in obtaining damages for elderly plaintiffs.

The tragedy is that because we hear these arguments so often from defense lawyers and insurance company claims adjusters, many personal injury lawyers start to buy-in to these defenses. Insurance companies actually often get a big discount on paying the full measure of the injuries at case evaluation and arbitrations in Michigan. Arbitrators and case evaluators often give a discount on responsibility to negligent defendants in these car wreck cases involving injuries to older drivers.

The only way to avoid this discount when everyone else is buying it is for an attorney to take these cases to trial.  This year we saw not one, but two Michigan Auto Law trial attorneys take these cases to trial (more to come on the second case, by Kevin Seiferheld, soon).

Recently, Joshua Terebelo showed this defense was nonsense in a Livingston County trial stemming from an automobile accident for a 70-year-old man injured in a wreck.  Here are the details of the trial, in which the theme was, you don’t get to hurt someone for free just because the person you hit is older.

In this automobile negligence trial, Josh obtained a jury verdict of $300,000 for his client, Michael Luck, who was then 73 years old. Mr. Luck was 70 years old at the time of the car accident in 2012. He was stopped at a freeway off ramp waiting to move onto Grand River in Livingston County. The defendant, who had been traveling on Grand River, veered over onto the shoulder and T-boned Mr. Luck’s car on the driver’s side. The defendant claimed that she had been hit by another vehicle and shoved onto the shoulder, but that “phantom vehicle” was never found and that theory was largely abandoned by the defense.

Mr. Luck injured his shoulder in the collision, aggravating preexisting osteoarthritis to the point that he needed a partial shoulder replacement. He also had a pre-existing leaky duct in that same shoulder which had been maintained, prior to this car accident, with simple dressing changes. To replace Mr. Luck’s shoulder, that duct had to be repaired first; as a result of the collision, then, he underwent two surgeries.

The case was evaluated at $175,000 in Livingston County.  The defense counsel offered nothing beyond nuisance value at all for settlement for the shoulder injury until only a week before trial — after Josh obtained significant, material concessions from the defense medical examiner during cross-examination.

After these concessions, the insurance company offered $110,000.

Josh listed the defense medical examiner on his own witness list and, after the IME’s deposition, offered the doctor in his own case in chief. The defense attorney resented no evidence as to negligence and Josh obtained a directed verdict as to negligence at trial.

The only defense was that a 73-year-old man’s shoulder injury isn’t worth very much. The insurance defense counsel continued arguing that Mr. Luck’s arthritis was not aggravated by the car accident.  The defendant’s final argument, that Mr. Luck’s life had not changed much as a result of the collision, was refuted by testimony of Mr. Luck and his wife. Their testimony showed Mr. Luck was much more limited now than before the collision in the activities he had enjoyed, including playing with his grandchild, golfing and fishing). After hearing the evidence, the Livingston County jury returned a trial jury verdict of $300,000.

As Josh has shown, these arguments that insurance companies and skilled defense lawyers make in all personal injury cases about the elderly not being worth it are not insurmountable. They most certainly do not get a pass on safety because they hurt or kill someone who also happens to be a senior citizen.

Here’s a nice review Josh and the firm received from Mr. Luck:

“I was at a stop sign approaching a busy road and I was T-boned by another driver who was on the shoulder rather than being on her lane. I went to the ER and was released that day, but the biggest problem I had was with my shoulder. The pain was so bad that that I wasn’t able to take care of my grandchildren like I was used to.  I knew about Michigan Auto Law because of the great things Michigan Lawyers Weekly had written about the firm (I actually used to work there). So I called Steve Gursten and told him about my accident. He kindly took the time and got back to me and said Brandon Hewitt would be in touch to get my case rolling. Brandon started out my case and the fact gathering. Brandon did a great job of introducing the process and what might happen. He met with us and was very helpful in helping us understand where we were going with the lawsuit. Brandon was also really helpful in handling the no fault claims for doctors. He was easy going and it was a nice experience to work with him under the circumstances. Once it was determined I had a solid case, Josh Terebelo took over. Josh did a terrific job for me and my wife. Right from the beginning, he was very helpful in understanding where we might go with this case, and helped us all the way through to a fantastic trial verdict in Brighton, where we are from. Josh was very organized. He helped us understand step by step what was coming, what his expectations of us were in court – and prepared us for the upcoming trial. He, like Brandon, understood what might be happening and assured that we would be comfortable with what our role would be during the trial. The insurance company for the driver who hit me offering a settlement that was very short of our expectations. Josh wouldn’t accept less than what we deserved and he was willing to fight for us in trial. Josh’s confidence in the ability, credibility and evidence in our case encouraged us to trust that the system would see the truth and be fair in its outcome. We were very pleased with the outcome of the jury. Josh did a great job representing us at trial as well. You could even tell the judge appreciated Josh because he was prepared and organized. With his confidence and preparedness, he did a great job in his closing statement. Basically under the circumstances, it was a pleasure working with Josh. My wife and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Josh, Brandon and the great people at Michigan Auto Law. We are thankful for the help and support they gave us after my car accident.”

– Michael Luck, Brighton

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