Is an 83-year-old man’s death only worth $250,000?

 by Steven M. GurstenFree Mercedes-Benz Car photo and picture

That’s what Secura Insurance Company said,  Macomb County jury says $2.55 million instead

If I have a reputation among insurance defense attorneys and insurance companies, it’s probably that I’m known for taking certain cases to trial when I get morally offended by something that an adjuster or defense attorney says to me.

In the past, I’ve taken cases to verdict on principle because I’ve found a particular adjuster so nasty, and his or her position on a case so offensive, that I would rather have a jury tell me I’m wrong. Some of my more notable trial verdicts have resulted in a few of the nastier claims adjusters in Michigan losing their jobs. But it should be emphasized that all of these are on cases that essentially were forced to trial because someone in the claims process took such an extreme view.

This includes one particular Allstate adjuster who only offered $10,000 for a “soft tissue” cases in Oakland County, a certain defense lawyer in my Macomb case a few years ago, a particular adjuster who said no one would ever pay on a “zero car damage TBI case” and a few others along the past years.

I’m also happy to report that last week, after my law partner Kevin Seiferheld recovered a $1.485 million dollar verdict for his client in Macomb County — on a $0 offer from State Farm —  that l heard through the rumor mill that a certain State Farm claims adjuster and defense lawyer were both driving to Bloomington, Illinois to meet with higher-ups at headquarters about how they handled the case.

The irony is after Kevin’s verdict on State Farm’s $0 offer, we’ve now had seven separate trial verdicts of $1 million or more on cases where the offer was $0 to $30,000.  But all of these cases were forced to trial, where the offer was so extreme that there was  no downside to going to trial.  As a Michigan Auto Law attorney said after his Soto $2 million trial verdict (also on a State Farm $0 offer because of little vehicle damage – thank you State Farm), reasonable defense offers settle cases.  Unreasonable offers force cases to trial.

I don’t take these cases to trial out of personal vanity.  I take them to trial because sometimes my personal sense of right and wrong is so offended that I feel there is no more noble course than to let a jury, as protectors of our community, remind everyone that the morals and values of our world are sometimes very different from what certain insurance companies say they are.

So it was with my recent trial in November of 2012,  where I was actually told at one point that a dead 83 year old who gets run over by a truck is only worth $250,000.

Fortunately, a jury thought otherwise, and Secura Insurance company is now having to re-evaluate how they value human life.  Hopefully, after this they won’t think they “got lucky” because they run over and kill an “old guy” who has health problems instead of someone who is younger.

Highest offer: $250,000 before trial, $500,000 when jury was deliberating

Attorneys for plaintiff, city: Steven M. Gursten, Thomas W. James, Farmington Hills

Attorneys for defendant, city: Witold Sztykiel, Troy, MI

Type of case: Truck accident

Details of the case: On July 23, 2009, a truck driver from Allied Excavation killed Michael Shekoski.  Mr. Shekoski was 83 years old, and he was killed while  attempting to cross 22 Mile at Van Dyke on his bicycle. The truck driver was traveling east on 22 Mile Road when he stopped for the red signal at the intersection.  The truck driver made a right turn on red, and did not ever see Mr. Shekoski, who had just entered the crosswalk on a white walk signal.

Mr. Shekoski is survived by his 10 children, 38 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

The Defendants refused to accept any responsibility for Mr. Shekoski’s wrongful death.   They accused Mr. Shekoski of entering the crosswalk on a solid red or blinking “don’t walk” crosswalk signal; they said that the truck was there first and that Mr. Shekoski rode his bicycle into the side of the truck; and they said Mr. Shekoski did not see the truck because he was legally blind from advanced macular degeneration.

Defendant also attacked the integrity of the family relationship and that at 83 years old, the family should not be compensated any money for loss of society.  They contended that the family would not have had much more time with him anyhow.

The Defendant also implied that Mr. Shekoski’s general state of physical health, including his prior heart attacks and advanced coronary artery disease, would result in a very low trial verdict at case evaluation and at facilitation.

The jury deliberated for five hours and returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiffs for $2.55 million, allocating percentage of negligence as follows:  50% Defendant truck driver, 20% Defendant Allied and 30% Mr. Shekoski.