Insurance companies are not good neighbors. How insurers try to devalue your case and take drastic measures to avoid paying claims.

By John “Mickey” Johnson, Attorney

Close up of a medical insurance formAs soon as an insurance company is notified of a claim, they are figuring out how to devalue it. In the personal injury context, they do this in a variety of ways. They will review your medical records and have a doctor who has never treated you state that your medical treatment was unnecessary. A medical billing expert will also be hired to state that the charges for your medical treatment was unreasonably high. If successful in these efforts, your personal injury claim will be drastically devalued because your past medical expenses – a big part of the damages you are entitled to recover – will at the very least be in question and at the worst be considered null and void. Another tactic often employed by insurers is to attack the credibility of the injured person. They will try to paint them as a villain, an unsavory character or at the very least as someone who is undeserving of compensation. In a recent car wreck case, the insurer hired a private investigator to secretly video tape my client in an effort to establish that my client was embellishing her injuries. They videotaped her on several different days while she was inside her home, picking up family members at school and doing errands. Needless to say my client felt like her privacy had been invaded.

A third tactic implemented by insurers is to delay the litigation in hopes of wearing down the plaintiff to a point where they will agree to accept less than the full value of the case. Plaintiff’s attorneys and their clients usually work under a contingency fee arrangement in which neither the attorney or the client are paid until the case is settled or a verdict is rendered. This arrangement incentives the plaintiff’s lawyer to resolve the case quickly and for as much money possible considering the unique facts and damages in any given case. Insurance defense lawyers on the other hand are typically paid on a billable hour basis. This means that insurance defense lawyers have a personal financial incentive in delaying the resolution of a case and creating more opportunities to bill for their work on a case even when the liability and damages are clear and ripe for settlement.

Though insurance company advertising portrays the insurance industry as good neighbors with your best interest in mind, a recent settlement against State Farm illustrates the great lengths insurers will go to avoid paying claims. According to a story first published by the Chicago tribune, State Farm agreed to pay $250 million on the brink of a trial to customers who claimed the company tried to rig the Illinois justice system to wipe out a $1 billion jury verdict from 19 years ago. No that is not a typo. Even after 19 years State Farm was still fighting.

State Farm Insurance Building ("Fire Building"), Downtown Bloomington, Illinois. Bloomington Central Business District, National Register of Historic Places.

State Farm Insurance Building (“Fire Building”), Downtown Bloomington, Illinois. Bloomington Central Business District, National Register of Historic Places.

The recent settlement stems from a lawsuit alleging that the biggest U.S. auto insurer lead an effort to recruit a judge friendly to its cause for the Illinois Supreme Court by secretly funding Judge LLoyd Karmeier’s 2004 election campaign by funneling money through advocacy groups that didn’t disclose donors. In 1999, an Illinois state court jury awarded the customers $456 million for breach of contract and the trial judge added $730 million in damages on a fraud claim. An appellate court reduced the verdict to $1.056 billion. In 2004, Judge Karmeier, was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court. A year later, that court threw out the award and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, seemingly ending the litigation. Karmeier cast the deciding vote in the case.

While the settlement comes with a typical no fault provision, it does illuminate what some insurers may be willing to do to avoid paying the full value of claims. The only way for you to level the playing field is to hire a lawyer with the dedication, drive, and resources to pursue a case to the lengths necessary to ensure that your case’s fullest value is realized. You shouldn’t have to take on the responsibility of handling the case on your own. There are no up-front costs to hire a trained professional to handle your case. All you should be worried about is treating your injuries and handling your responsibilities. Powell and Castillo Law Firm, PLLC has the experience, the skill, and the initiative to get the job done while still maintaining a strong focus on the attorney-client relationship.

Kenedy locals file $1M suit after fire

By Jason Clay Jansky, Karnes Countywide Staff

A large smoke plume from the Newpark Drilling Fluids facility fire on July 1, 2018 rises above an apartment building in the Country Village Apartment complex.

Kenedy – The trouble for Newpark Drilling Fluids isn’t over after their facility in Kenedy burned down July 1. Twenty-five residents from here have now filed suit against the corporation.

The suit alleges Newpark operated their facility “in a negligent and unsafe manner,” and that such operation led to residents being displaced and exposed to dangerous smoke. The suit filed by San Antonio-based Powell Law Firm is seeking damages totaling $1 million.

“Right now we’re representing 20 families in total. A majority of those families are from Country Village Apartments. We have a few from the trailer park next door,” attorney Mickey Johnson said.

The suit also alleges Newpark failed to properly service and maintain their fire suppression sprinkler system, something not mentioned by the state fire marshal’s office in their July 18 statement at Kenedy City Hall.

Attorneys also are looking into the environmental impact on their clients. “We have an expert report that talks about some of the chemicals Involved. We’re about to file that,” attorney Jon Powell said. “These people lost property in terms of smoke damage, and then we’ve had people who have had health complications. A big part of it is the way things played out. The fire burned for almost five days. It wasn’t an hour-long fire.”
The displacement severely impacted his clients, he said, adding that their homes being open to inspectors and cleaning crews led to theft.

“Missing time at work, missing their stuff. A lot of people lost a lot of the stuff that had meaning to them. The property manager had her wedding ring stolen,” Powell said. “The property was left open for over a week. A lot of people had stuff stolen, things that had sentimental value.”

Attorneys now are taking depositions, requesting records from the state fire marshal’s office and obtaining TCEQ documents.

Powell said it important for his clients to receive justice when so many have benefited from oil activity while they have only suffered.

“It hits at the absolute heart of the Eagle Ford Shale. Some people benefited through royalty payments… and some people are left behind,” Powell said. “I guess that’s fine for the people making money living in nice houses on ranches. But for the people living in the apartment complex and trailer parks, it’s not as easy for them.”

Attorneys with the firm also are considering filing a temporary injunction to prevent Newpark from rebuilding.

Burnt equipment and buildings are seen at the site of the Newpark Drilling Fluids facility fire on July 1, 2018

Officials with Newpark have not returned several message left with their offices sing the July 1 fire, and a top Newpark official refused to comment when questioned by Countywide staff in person during the days after the fire. Nothing extremely toxic or unsafe burned as result of the fire, according to Sgt. Greg Huston with the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

He reported that finding July 18 during a press conference at Kenedy City Hall. “One of the questions that was asked to me is ‘how could a business like this be within city limits?’ The items that were contained in that building, you can get at Home Depot,” he said at the press conference. “I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want a Home Depot in their neighborhood.”

Click here to read the lawsuit in its entirety