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Michelle Tribble's Insurance Nightmare

Recently my client Michelle Tribble was featured on CNN's cable show Anderson Cooper 360. The story addressed how insurance companies take advantage of legitimate accident victims by intentionally undercutting settlement offers and essentially forcing innocent victims to file expensive and time-consuming lawsuits just to recover their medical bills.
I was contacted by CNN about a case that I handled a few years ago against Allstate Insurance Company on behalf of my client Michelle Tribble. Michelle had been injured in two separate accidents occurring just 10 weeks apart. She was not at fault for either accident. Michelle received two herniated discs in her cervical spine. In the first accident handled by Safeco Insurance Company, Michelle was rear-ended and suffered whiplash. In the second accident Michelle was T-boned by an uninsured motorist so she filed a claim with her own auto carrier Allstate. Safeco agreed to pay for its portion of the medical bills caused by the minor first accident. But Allstate refused to pay Michelle's medical bills attributed to the more serious second accident.
Due to Allstate's hardball position, Michelle was forced to file a lawsuit against Allstate and the other driver in the first accident. The case was transferred to mandatory arbitration. The arbitrator ruled that Allstate was responsible for paying $35,000, which included past and future medical bills and some wage loss. Safeco's insured was ordered to pay as well.
Although Safeco was willing to accept the arbitrator's ruling, Allstate was not. Instead Allstate appealed the arbitration award and requested that Michelle try her case in court before a jury of 12 persons. This made little sense because the arbitrator's award of $35,000 was still well below Michelle's $50,000 insurance policy that she purchased from Allstate. It wasn't as if Allstate was ordered to pay a windfall, in fact far from it compared with the amount of the policy.
When I tried to settle the case with Allstate after it appealed the arbitrator's ruling, the most it would offer was $12,000 - an amount far less than Michelle's damages caused by the 2nd T-bone collision. Had Michelle accepted this offer she would have ended up owing several thousands of dollars for an accident she did not cause. To her credit, Michelle wasn't going to be bullied. She told me to fight on her behalf.
We managed to settle with Safeco and then proceed against Allstate only. The trial against Allstate lasted about 5 days. Allstate hired 2 doctors to testify against Michelle. They told the jury that Michelle suffered a simple soft tissue whiplash injury that should have resolved in a few months. They explained away the 2 herniated discs on the MRI scan by saying that they existed before the T-bone collision. Allstate's doctors also told the jury that Michelle had psychological issues and that she had a pre-existing back problem before the two accidents (she visited a chiropractor a few times a year earlier). Michelle's treating doctors said that she received legitimate injuries and that the herniated discs were most likely suffered in the second T-bone collision that was caused by the uninsured motorist.
The jury agreed with Michelle Tribble and awarded her damages of more than $370,000 against Allstate. Then Allstate appealed the jury's award to the court of appeals. The appeal lasted almost two years. The appellate court then ruled that the jury's verdict should be reduced to the amount of Michelle's insurance policy issued by Allstate - $50,000.
Michelle incurred court costs of more than $17,000 and attorney fees that exceeded $60,000. Fortunately the appellate court ordered Allstate to pay for these expenses. But not before Allstate dragged Michelle through the system for more than 4 years.
Washington state legislators enacted a law to combat the unfair settlement practices utilized by Allstate Insurance Company in the Tribble case. The insurance industry then spent millions to turn the law into a referendum to be decided by voters this November. If you believe that insurance companies should not be allowed to drag innocent accident victims through the courts and cause unnecessary expense and delays, then you should vote "YES" on Referendum 67.
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