Purscell v. Tico Ins. Co. – Intentional Wrongdoing and Bad Faith Insurance

The case of Purscell v. Tico Ins. Co. is at once sad and strange.
The legal questions it asks are intriguing.

It involves the excess liability incurred by a driver who was apparently trying to be a friend to a co-worker, a young woman who was impaired and clearly troubled. The problem is that their actions collectively resulted in the death of that young woman, as well as serious and permanent injuries to another man and other injuries to that man’s wife.

Sorting through the question of who should pay became complicated.

According to court records, decedent visited defendant at his home in the night in question. She was drunk and distraught. She asked him for a ride. He agreed to give her one. She directed him to a local cemetery where she then went a friend’s grave.

Later, it would be revealed to defendant that grave belonged to decedent’s friend, who died in a crash caused by decedent, who had allegedly been driving drunk. In the months after that crash, decedent had tried several times to commit suicide and had even be hospitalized for this reason. Defendant also didn’t know several of decedent’s other friends refused to give her rides anywhere because she would “do stuff” like grab the steering wheel and jerk it while the car was in motion or try to press down on the accelerator.

On this evening, after they left the cemetery, she unbuckled her seat belt, scooted closer to defendant and put her foot down on the accelerator. Defendant yelled at her to stop, and she did. However, she did it again as they approached an intersection with a stop sign. Defendant saw headlights from an oncoming vehicle. Decedent also saw the other vehicle but continued to press down hard on the accelerator, despite defendant’s pleas to stop. The vehicle reached speeds of up to 70 miles-per-hour as it entered the intersection. Defendant swerved to avoid collision, but it happened anyway.

Decedent was thrown from the vehicle and died instantly. The occupants of the other vehicle – a husband and wife – were injured, the husband critically.

Defendant was insured by a policy that provided $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident.

Although plaintiffs (the occupants of the other vehicle) initially sought full policy limits three weeks after the crash, the insurer declined this claim, even though the husband had already incurred more than $97,000 in medical bills – and that figure was continuing to grow. However, insurer stated it needed to do more investigation because of the intentional nature of decedent’s actions. In many cases, insurance policies do not cover intentional wrongdoing.

Plaintiff’s later withdrew their offer to settle for policy limits and filed a wrongful death lawsuit, as did parents of decedent.

Insurer notified defendant of his right to seek independent counsel.

Prior to trial, after learning decedent’s family also intended to pursue a wrongful death claim, insurer placed the full policy limits in a deposit and filed an interpleader, indicating it intended to pay the full amount. The only issue left to decide was how that $50,000 would be divvied up.

But the case against defendant driver proceeded. Ultimately, jurors found four plaintiffs in the amount of more than $900,000. Only $50,000 of that was covered by insurance, which meant defendant had a substantial judgment against him personally.

He then pursued a bad faith action against the insurance company, arguing if they had settled the case when plaintiff’s first filed their complaint, he would not have been exposed to such a massive judgment against him.

Trial court granted summary judgment to defendant insurer, and the federal appeals court affirmed. The insurer had not acted in bad faith by declining to settle just three weeks after a fatal crash where complex facts required a more thorough investigation.

Contact our Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Purscell v. Tico Ins. Co., June 22, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Navarrette v. Meyer – Interfering With Driver May Be Liability Grounds, July 20, 2015, Greensboro Injury Attorney Blog

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