Why you should never trust an insurance company in Kingston, New York

In 1997, I got my first real lesson about how insurance companies work.

My client, Mr. Jones, a mid-20 black male from Georgia, suffered horrendous internal injuries while a passenger in a car that collided with a tractor trailer on the New York State Thruway in Saugerties.   Mr. Jones's car was crushed and it was amazing that Mr. Jones or the driver of his car survived. Mr. Jones suffered massive internal injuries and internal bleeding.  Numerous operations were performed to keep Mr. Jones alive. Mr. Jones spent 51 days in the intensive care unit of the Kingston Hospital and he spent 62 days in the hospital.  Finally, the day arrived (after two months in a touch and go medical condition), that Mr. Jones was discharged from the Kingston Hospital and allowed to go to his home in Georgia.

Although he still suffered from scarring and nerve damage throughout his arms and legs, Mr. Jones was happy to get the chance to see his son again.  Within days of getting home in Georgia, Mr. Jones received a phone call from his insurance carrier, Allstate Insurance.  The claims adjuster told Mr. Jones that they had a check waiting for him for the damage to his car; Mr. Jones's car was a total loss.  Mr. Jones was told that he should come get his check at Allstate's office.

A family member drove Mr. Jones to the office of Allstate Insurance and upon arriving, he was presented with a check for $15,000.  The claims representative from Allstate explained that the check represented payment for the property damage for Mr. Jones's car, they shook hands and Mr. Jones left.

But there's a slight twist to this story.  Mr. Jones is only semi-literate and trusted that the claims representative at Allstate was simply reimbursing him for the total loss of his car.  However, the check prepared by Allstate had a notation in the bottom right corner that read: "Payment for all claims for bodily injury arising out of the motor vehicle accident."  Mr. Jones could not read the fine print on the check and he trusted his insurance agent, so he deposited the check.  Mr. Jones did not have a lawyer to explain the consequences of accepting the check.

Two months later, Mr. Jones hired me as his lawyer for the devastating physical injuries he sustained in the collision between his car and the tractor trailer.  The bills were beginning to pile up for Mr. Jones.  The hospital bill at the Kingston Hospital was $170,000 and Mr. Jones had medical expenses from his treating physicians that were unpaid.  To make things worse, Mr. Jones suffered constant pain and he could not return to his job as a waiter at a local restaurant.  Mr. Jones was disabled for life.

When I filed the lawsuit for Mr. Jones, I got a shock when I received the answer from the defendants.  The defendants, insured by Allstate Insurance, asserted a defense that Mr. Jones had waived all of his rights to bring a personal injury claim by depositing the $15,000 check.  The defendants relied on the notation in the bottom right corner of the check that stated that Mr. Jones was waiving his rights to compensation for physical injury.

Mr. Jones was shocked and so was I.  You see, Mr. Jones could not read the notation on the check.  Since Mr. Jones did not have an attorney when he got the check, he did not realize that he was doing anything more than getting reimbursed for the total loss of his car.  Mr. Jones had almost $200,000 in unpaid medical bills arising from his injuries and was suffering a life-long disability.  Surely, Allstate Insurance would not have expected Mr. Jones to waive his claims for personal injury for $15,000...right?

I made a motion to dismiss the defense that Mr. Jones had waived his rights based upon the check.  Although the trial court held that Mr. Jones had released all of his rights for bodily injury by accepting the check, the appellate court reversed the decision of the lower and reinstated Mr. Jones's case.  The appellate court had choice words for Allstate Insurance for its duplicity in attempting to rob Mr. Jones of his right to bring a lawsuit for his severe injuries.

Ultimatedly, Mr. Jones's case was settled and he was compensated for his medical bills and his permanent disability.  Justice was served and Mr. Jones went on to live as close to a normal life as his injuries allowed.  But what lessons can be learned from Mr. Jones's situation?

Allstate Insurance, and most other insurance companies, will do anything possible to deprive you of your rights.  If you think Mr. Jones had a rare or unique situation and that this could not happen to you, you are sadly mistaken. Insurance companies do not make money by paying claims; they are in the business of denying claims.  While there are good insurance companies (i.e., Travelers is tops on my list), there are many more that will stop at nothing to rob you of your rights.

By all means, do not accept anything from your insurance company until you have consulted with a lawyer.  Otherwise, you may be signing away your rights...just ask Mr. Jones.

What you can do if you have questions or just want to chat with me

If you have any questions or want more information, I welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can send me an e-mail at [email protected] .  You are always welcome to join the mailing list for my newsletter for medical consumers, Your Malpractice Insider, by sending your name and address to me in an e-mail.