IT ONLY TOOK 1.7 SECONDS. The Ford Taurus was northbound at 65 mph. It lost control, crossed the median, ejected its driver, became airborne, then crashed into the windshield of a southbound HVAC service van. The impact instantly killed the van driver and injured his co-worker in the passenger seat.
First responders smelled alcohol on the breath of the Taurus driver. Her blood test result was positive for alcohol. Felony charges were filed against her alleging careless driving causing death—aggravated by DUI.
The wrongful death case on behalf of the family of the van driver would appear simple and straightforward. Make a claim. Settle it quickly. Case closed.
However, to get the best outcome for our clients, the van driver’s widow and their 2-month old baby, would be complicated and time-consuming. The case required five different legal proceedings to get top dollar for the family.
CASE #1 – Uninsured motorist coverage. The at-fault driver was uninsured. Our investigation determined, however, that the service van was owned by and, therefore, covered by the HVAC company’s $1 Million uninsured motorist (“UM”) policy. UM coverage is insurance you buy in case an un- or under-insured driver runs into you. The statute and insurance explanation can be viewed on Colorado.gov—just search for “UM/UIM coverage.”
In this case, the passenger of the van was also injured. The UM insurer, therefore, deposited its policy proceeds with the court. It filed a case (legal term: “interpleader”) so that a court could decide how to divide the money between the widow for the death of her husband and the passenger for his injuries. The widow and her baby received most of the money. This led to CASE #2, probate proceedings to approve and apportion the UM settlement.
CASE #3 – The Colorado Victims’ Rights Act (VRA) ensures that crime victims are treated with fairness, respect, and dignity, and that they have notice and the right to attend any hearings at the critical stages of the criminal case. Victims also have the right to submit a victim impact statement at the time of sentencing. In this case, we attended hearings with our client and worked in cooperation with the victim rights advocate assigned to the case. The statute and applicable forms can also be viewed on the Colorado.gov site—just search for “Victim Rights Act.”
CASE #4 – Workers Compensation Case, Benefit Penalty. Employees who are injured or killed on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits as a matter of law. However, if the injury or death is allegedly the result of the employee failing to follow a safety regulation, then the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier can reduce the benefits it owes by 50%. Because our van driver was unbuckled from his seat belt at the moment of the collision, the workers’ compensation carrier petitioned to reduce the widow’s support benefits by half. The evidence, however, persuaded the carrier that belted or not, no one could have survived the impact from the Taurus. The penalty claim was dropped. We settled the compensation claim for the widow and baby for a lump sum plus structured settlements. Colorado.gov, search for “workers compensation benefits/ penalty.”
CASE #5 – Lawsuit and judgment against the at-fault driver. In the end, we decided that we needed to finalize any claim against the at-fault driver. The van driver was the primary breadwinner and source of support for his wife and his baby. They were a young family, and he had a long work life ahead of him. We filed a complaint against the at-fault driver and took a default judgment against her for $2,282,005.00. The judge found the conduct of the at-fault driver was a basis to exceed the caps on wrongful death damages and to bar discharge in bankruptcy.
Complicated cases require experienced lawyers to get the top dollar/best result.