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Harold Christian
Harold Christian
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Insurance Company Settles Bad Faith Action Arising Out of Automobile Collision with Drunken Driver for $20 Million

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Joseph Tuski, a former construction worker, was left a quadriplegic, after being struck by a drunken driver and thrown more than 100 feet. In addition to bringing a lawsuit against the drunken driver, Mr. Tuski appropriately brought a lawsuit against the tavern that served alcohol to the drunk driver to such a point as to make him intoxicated even after he was obviously intoxicated. On January 17, 2001, while Mr. Tuski was working as a flagman for Liberty Construction on a road paving project, he was struck by the drunken driver and was rendered a quadriplegic.

Joseph Tuski was a road construction worker and was rendered a quadriplegic when he was struck by a drunken driver. The drunken driver, who was the manager of a tavern, had also been served alcohol at that tavern to the point he was obviously made intoxicated. Dram shop laws prohibit bars and taverns from serving alcohol to persons at the point that they are becoming obviously intoxicated. The purpose of this is to protect the public, and not to allow the taverns and bars to sell alcohol to people who are intoxicated and then turn them loose on the public roads. In this situation, the Court held the tavern responsible for the damages to the innocent Mr. Tuski.

Interestingly, the drunken driver was charged with Driving Under the Influence, and plead guilty. However, in the lawsuit, he denied that he was guilty of driving under the influence and testified that he only plead guilty to avoid incarceration. Immediately after the accident, he denied drinking any alcohol and refused to submit to the blood test. After the police obtained a search warrant, the driver’s blood was tested and showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent and a urine alcohol level of 0.17 percent. Both of these are strong indicators of intoxication. The tavern had $1 million worth of liability coverage, and the insurance company, Princeton Insurance Company, repeatedly refused to settle with the quadriplegic victim for that $1 million, instead required that he go to trial. At the trial of the case, the jury awarded more than $75 million, including $25 million in punitive damages. The award was later cut in half by a trial judge, with the verdict reduced to $37.5 million, which was later affirmed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court on appeal.

The tavern then assigned its complaint of bad faith for refusing to settle against its insurance company, the Princeton Insurance Company, to Mr. Tuski who brought suit for bad faith. The claim was that the tavern felt their insurance company was unreasonable in refusing to settle for $1 million, and because they were unreasonable it resulted in a $37.5 million verdict against them, for which they did not have full insurance coverage.

As a result of the second litigation, where the insurance company was being sued for bad faith, Princeton agreed to pay an additional $20 million for their bad faith actions during litigation. This case highlights the problem with insurance companies who frequently act in bad faith and refuse to settle a claim for a seriously injured victim. Not only did they require the seriously injured victim to go through an unnecessary delay and expensive litigation, but they also placed their insured parties in an untenable and difficult position by placing their assets at risk.

The claim that there are too many frivolous lawsuits is unwarranted. While there may be some frivolous lawsuits, frivolous defenses, such as the one highlighted here by an insurance company who refused to pay money when they are responsible, far exceed the number of frivolous lawsuits. State legislators and our U.S. Congress need to act to prohibit bad faith conduct such as that which was exhibited by this insurance company.

For more information on this subject, please refer to our section on Car and Motorcycle Accidents.