AIG


Everyone’s favorite movie star/governor, the aptly titled “Governator”, has become the “Tort Reforminator” this week.  According to an article on Law.com, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law this week that prevents a victim  of negligence from suing someone who stops to help them at the scene of an accident, unless the tortfeasor’s actions at the scene rise to the level of gross negligence or recklessness.  The bill was pushed by the Civil Justice Association of California, a tort reform group whose members include Allstate, AIG, and State Farm (obviously a group that looks out for everyday people).

A member of one of the groups sponsoring the bill, Christine Spagnoli was quoted as saying: “The bar has been set higher…  People who do something and unintentionally cause additional harm aren’t going to be faced with having to be potentially sued.”  Christine then gives the following example to illustrate how the new bill works: if a drunk driver stops at an accident scene, puts a victim in his car and wrecks it, his actions could rise to gross negligence – he could be sued.  If a sober driver rescues someone from an accident scene and crashes into someone while racing to the hospital, they might not be liable under this new law.

The bill provides protection to insurance companies.  If the sober driver in scenario number two is driving like a maniac and hurts someone, the fact that he just rescued someone at another accident scene should not shield his insurance company from paying for his negligence.  This bill does not protect good samaritans, it protects the good samaritan’s insurance company and prevents the injured party from recovering from the insurance company to pay for their medical expenses.   Good job protecting “helpless” insurance companies like AIG, Herr Governator!

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I previously posted about new tort reform measures being pushed in the Oklahoma legislature.  A new article in the Tulsa World talks about measures the Oklahoma Bar is taking to counter the unreasonable proposals.  The litany of tort reform measures being pushed include a cap of $300,000 on pain and suffering damages, a requirement that plaintiff hire an expert witness to certify a lawsuit has merit, a limit on attorney’s contingency fees, and attempts to allow the legislature power over the body that appoints judges.

The Bar Association says the measures will “hamper the rights of ordinary citizens to have their day in court”  and give the legislature the power to “set the amount of damages that can be awarded in every case, replacing the constitutional right of citizens to have their case determined by a jury of their peers”.  The Bar Association also believes the free market should set the fee lawyers charge, not the government. 

These are old tricks from the reformer playbook.  The contingency fee allows average citizens to be able to afford legal representation of the same caliber as the corporations and insurance companies they have to sue to enforce their rights. 

The cap on pain and suffering is another classic from the reformer’s playbook.  Plaintiff’s who are entitled to pain and suffering damages of more than $300,000 are the most profoundly affected of plaintiffs.  They have sustained life changing injuries and usually will never be the same.  They are not filers of frivolous lawsuits.  They are the severely injured.  So the tort reformers say caps are needed to prevent jackpot justice and to prevent those who are least deserving from collecting on frivolous matters.  But that isn’t what the cap does.  It prevents the most severely injured from getting the help they need.  Sick.

As to the issue of changing the system for appointment of judges, that is yet another tort reformer classic.  They are constantly looking to change the way the judiciary is elected, apointed, etc.  If judges are elected in a jurisdiction, they say the power to elect judges should be taken out of the hands of people (average citizens are dangerous).  If judges are appointed, as in Oklahoma, they say the legislature should have more power in appointing the judges, to give the “people” more say in the process.  Yeah right.

Good luck to the people of Oklahoma.  Hopefully insurance companies and corporations won’t be successful in completely taking over the state, especially if one of the insurance companies is AIG.

According to a story in the Charleston Gazette, AIG is being sued for refusing to pay a life insurance policy on an Iraq war veteran.  The veteran, Andrew White, served with the Marines in Iraq, as a combat engineer, disarming bombs and patrolling the Syrian/Iraqi border.  Upon returning from the war, White took out a life insurance policy with AIG in 2005.  White’s brother, who served in Afganastan, was killed in action before White took out the policy, and his brother’s death was the impetus for White deciding to purchase life insurance. 

In 2007, White was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.  White subsequently died in his sleep.  The autopsy found normal levels of prescription medication in his body.  The coroner ruled White’s death accidental.  When presented with the claim, AIG denied the claim based on the fact that White failed to report he was involved in a car accident when he was 16 years old when he filed his application. 

Jack Tinney, the attorney for the family was quoted as saying, “(t)hey have gone back and searched for any reason whatsoever to deny the claim, rather than look for a valid reason”.   Sounds like the plaintiffs in this case have a good bad faith case against AIG.