A U.S. District Court jury in Missoula awarded a Bigfork woman $5.3 million in damages earlier. This was the largest bad-faith insurance verdict in Montana history.
Samantha Chilcote, 32-year-old salmon ecologist, suffered permanent brain injuries in a head-on automobile accident. She was not the at-fault driver and the at-fault driver’s insurance limits were inadequate compensation.
Fortunately, Chilcote, a doctoral student at the time of her accident, was covered under her family’s insurance plan with Fireman’s Fund, for a total of $1.5 million in underinsured motorist benefits and $15,000 in medical pay. However, the company refused to pay the underinsured motorist claim and paid the med pay claim in January 08, five years after the accident.
The jury found that Fireman’s Fund acted with “actual malice” and awarded $3.5 million in punitive damages and $1.8 million in compensatory damages. The jury also awarded $35,000 for Fireman Fund’s violation of the Montana Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Chilcote said: “I was completely overwhelmed and I’m really thankful to the jury for doing the right thing, and to my legal team for standing behind me. It has been a really long, long hard road.”
Her attorney, James A. Manley, said: “This insurance company went for five years before it paid any of my client’s medical expenses. “They had absolutely no basis for not paying them. She is one of those people who did everything right, and would never file an exaggerated claim. Yet the insurance company argued that she was making this up.”
The article attached to this blog post recites Fireman’s deplorable adjusting and payment avoidance tactics. The handling adjuster accused her of faking a seizure. To this day, she continues to suffer from a short-term memory defect and is still undergoing treatment for her brain injury. Chilcote also said “It was a classic case of David and Goliath, where they are just trying to wear you out. I just really hope that the jury’s decision sends a clear message to insurance companies everywhere.”
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