Third Circuit Affirms Award of Underinsured Motorist Benefits

April 29, 2020

underinsured motorist benefits Pittsburgh, PA

In the recent case of Kirkpatrick v. GEICO Casualty Company, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal district court judgment that awarded underinsured motorist benefits to a car accident victim and his wife.

Injured Car Accident Victim Seek Uninsured Motorist Benefits

Ronnie Kirkpatrick was injured in a car accident that was determined to be solely the other driver’s fault. The at-fault driver’s insurance paid Kirkpatrick $100,000, the limit of the at-fault driver’s coverage. Kirkpatrick and his wife, Michelle Vensel, sought additional coverage under the underinsured motorist coverage in their policy issued by GEICO Casualty Company. Kirkpatrick had up to $900,000 in underinsured motorist benefits under his policy, and he and his wife sought benefits for Kirkpatrick’s loss of earning capacity from the couple’s vintage vehicle restoration business, pain and suffering, embarrassment and humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, and Vensel’s loss of consortium. Kirkpatrick and Vensel filed suit for $75,000 in damages when they were unable to reach agreement on the amount of additional recovery.

Related blog: Do I Have a Car Accident Claim?

Courts Rule in Injured Victim’s Favor

Following trial in the district court, the jury awarded Kirkpatrick and Vensel an aggregate verdict of $3.22 million, apportioned between Kirkpatrick and Vensel’s loss of consortium claim. The parties stipulated to mold the judgment to the $900,000 limit of the couple’s underinsured motorist coverage.

GEICO appealed, challenging the exclusion of evidence of Kirkpatrick’s pack-a-week smoking habit and arguing that Kirkpatrick could not recover loss of earning capacity when his auto restoration business operated at a loss in the years prior to the accident.

The Third Circuit rejected GEICO’s arguments and affirmed the judgment for Kirkpatrick and Vensel. The court first ruled that, although a smoking habit could have an effect on the determination of Kirkpatrick’s life expectancy, GEICO failed to present evidence of how long Kirkpatrick had maintained his smoking habit or expert testimony on the effect of a pack-a-week smoking habit on Kirkpatrick’s life expectancy. The court further ruled that Kirkpatrick could recover loss of earning capacity damages despite his business not being profitable in the years leading up to the accident, noting that loss of earning capacity damages were intended to compensate for the loss of ability to earn, not the loss of actual earnings. The court noted that Kirkpatrick presented sufficient evidence to establish his earning capacity in the form of appraisals of the vintage vehicles he had restored but not yet sold prior to his accident.

Injured in a Motor Vehicle Accident? You May Be Entitled to Coverage from Your Own Insurer

Many people may not realize that when they’ve been injured in a motor vehicle accident through no fault of their own and the at-fault driver either doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have sufficient insurance coverage to pay for all of the damages that arise from the accident, they can turn to their own insurer for uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits. However, as the above case illustrates, your own insurer may fight to avoid paying you the benefits you believe you deserve. Having experienced, aggressive legal representation on your side can give you the best chance at securing maximum compensation under your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.

Related blog: Getting in an Auto Accident with an Uninsured Driver

Contact a Pittsburgh Personal Injury Lawyer to Discuss Your Motor Vehicle Accident Case in Pennsylvania

Did you or a loved one sustain serious injuries due to a motor vehicle accident in Pennsylvania? Don’t let the medical bills pile up while you wait for the negligent party or their insurance company to do the right thing. Right now, you need an aggressive personal injury attorney on your side, fighting to get you the compensation you need, want, and deserve. The skilled attorneys at Goodrich & Geist, P.C. represent plaintiffs who have been injured because of motor vehicle accidents in Pittsburgh and Western PA counties.Call (412) 766-1455 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation about your case. We have an office conveniently located at 3634 California Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.