On the morning of June 23, 2015, two brothers, ages 18 and 14, were headed east on Interstate 94 near Dalton, Minnesota. They were on their way to basketball camp in Wisconsin. The 18 year old was driving his parents’ Dodge Ram when a semi veered into his lane, causing the teen to swerve out of the way. The truck driver overcorrected and the semi rolled into the median before coming to a stop in the westbound lanes. The cowardly semi driver then fled the scene. The Ram was a crumpled wreck; debris was scattered over the road. The two brothers died in the crash; two passengers were hospitalized, but recovered.
Since that devastating day, the parents of the deceased teens have been searching for any and all information regarding the semi or its driver. They are seeking closure. Authorities still search for answers; despite the lengthy investigation, investigators cannot precisely determine what led to the crash.
Last month, the couple filed a wrongful death suit against the boys’ school and their basketball coach. While the suit states that the crash was the result of carelessness and negligence of the “phantom semi” that left the scene, the lawsuit alleges that the school and the basketball coach were negligent in letting the 18-year-old drive his brother and two teammates to the camp. According to the plaintiffs, the school had prior arrangements as to how the students would be transported, but for unknown reasons those plans were changed at the last minute.
Also named as defendants is FCA US, aka Chrysler Group and Secura Insurance, the family’s insurance company. The complaint alleges that Chrysler was negligent in failing to warn consumers about a steering defect in the Dodge Ram. This defect allegedly causes drivers to lose control. The lawsuit also alleges that the company failed to develop an adequate fix for the problem. The claim against Secura, the family’s own automobile insurance carrier, contends that while the policy included uninsured motorist coverage with limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per crash, Secura refused to pay benefits even though two family members died in the crash.
So, here are some questions: Is this case another example of large corporations putting profits ahead of people? Despite known steering defects, did Chrysler first fail to warn and then fail to make necessary recalls and repairs in a timely manner? The truck driver fled the scene and cannot be identified; is this a classic case of obvious liability for uninsured motorist benefits and an insurance company that delays denies and defends when it should pay its own policy holders the benefits their premiums have paid for?
Auto manufacturers are responsible for the safety of the products they sell, and defective and dangerous vehicles place motorists at risk for serious injury or death. Nobody’s perfect; it doesn’t surprise me when a defective vehicle is identified. What does surprise me is how slow manufacturers are to react, notify the public, and fix the defect. Defective vehicles can be killers and this lawsuit alleges that the defect in play here was a deadly one. Automobile manufacturers, Chrysler, in this case, owe consumers a duty to recognize, investigate, accept, and take responsibility immediately upon its knowledge of a problem. They also owe a duty to get these dangerous vehicles off the road; they must recall and repair them as soon as possible in all cases.
The idea behind underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage is simple: If you are injured in a hit-and-run accident or the at-fault driver does not have insurance or is underinsured, you are entitled to coverage from your own insurance company, up to your coverage limits, to help compensate for losses caused by the accident.
Sadly, however, purchasing uninsured/underinsured coverage does not mean your insurance company is going to pay your damages without a fight, even if it is your own carrier. One example of this insurance company tactic occurs when the company tries to identify you as the at-fault party even if the police blamed the opposite driver. That’s what Secura did in this case. In other words – file an uninsured or underinsured claim against your own insurance company and you may find that suffering a loss isn’t easy, and neither is resolving a claim with SECURA. With insurance companies, despite catchy jingles and TV slogans and friendly or funny pitch people, you are not in “good hands”, they are not your “good neighbors.” Service is not “fast, fair and friendly” and they are not “on your side.” Most carriers don’t care how good your payment history is or how accident-free you have been over the years. Their goal is to collect as much as possible in premiums and pay out as little as possible in benefits.
The plaintiff’s attorney said the lawsuit is not about money; the parents just want the facts. They do not want someone else to experience a similar tragedy. Personal injury attorneys are often attacked, sometimes viciously, by insurance companies and corporate lobbyists paid to protect their assets. Citizens should be aware that the lawsuit or the threat of one is the device that holds these corporate wrongdoers accountable; it is lawsuits that force corporations to adopt safety standards and prevent future harm. Lawsuits are where Davids can best Goliaths and fight them on a more even playing field.
Cases like this remind us all of the role our civil justice system plays in protecting the public and exposing corporate wrongdoing. If you were the victim of corporate negligence, if your claim has been unfairly denied or the insurance company has acted unreasonably, don’t be afraid to stand up for your rights. Your actions could benefit not only you, but others who have been wronged by corporate America. If we don’t hold companies accountable in situations like this one, they will continue to take advantage of injured citizens/customers.
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.