An insurance company has paid a $413,543 judgment from a Henry County trial for a customer who held a $100,00 insurance policy, according to lawyers on both sides. Although the payment concludes three years of litigation over a wreck, attorneys from both sides have different views of what happened.
“This is the way the bad faith statute was soon to recover in full for their claim if an insurance company denied it in bad faith,” said plaintiffs attorney Linley Jones of the Linley Jones Firm, who tried the case with associate Jennifer Ivey. “It’s so important not to be deterred by an insurance company’s bad faith, but to forget ahead and get the verdict client deserves.”
“It would be incorrect to call this bad faith,” said defense attorney S.E. “Trey” Moody III of Perry, who represented the defendant at trial, retained by the insurance company, Allstate. “The plaintiff never got a bad faith assignment.” Moody also said he never doubted that Allstate was “going to stand behind” its customer. “Allstate always protects its insured,” he said.
The question to be answered by the litigation was how much Allstate would pay. Moody admitted that Jones and Ivey boosted that amount because they were “willing and able to try the case.” He added Allstate “gave them no choice.”
The dispute goes back to a 2012 Sunday afternoon in McDonough. College student and aspiring nurse Daniella Barry pulled away from a stop sign in front of a motorcycle driven by longtime Butts County sheriff’s deputy Lin-ton Reeves, whose wife Angelia was riding on the back. The couple was coming home from a day trip to Helen.
As the story was told in summaries from both sides filed with the court, Reeves swerved in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid the crash, skidding the bike sideways along the pavement after impact. The couple landed in the road apart from the bike. Both suffered “road rash” abrasions all over their bodies. The husband, with four cracked ribs and a broken foot, was unable to get up from the road when his wife rose and ran to him. Both were taken to a hospital by ambulance.
Barry was cited for failure to yield and admitted negligence, but her insurance company, Allstate, denied Reeves’ initial $100,000 policy limit demand, according to attorneys and court records from both sides. Meanwhile, more bills piled up as Reeves eventually underwent two surgeries to repair his foot. The defense later offered $200,000 to settle, but by then Reeves had approximately $240,000 in special damages —$203,000 for medical bills and the rest for lost income.
The case went to trial before Henry County State Court Judge James Chafin III in July. The jury returned a verdict of $400,000 for Reeves and $25,000 for his wife. Allstate immediately paid the wife’s portion of the verdict, but not the husband’s. Chafin signed a July 24 judgment for the husband against Barry for $413,543, including prejudgment interest citing O.C.G.A. § 51-12-14, which provides for interest where verdicts run in excess of settlement demands.
On Sept. 16, Jones sent Moody a demand letter for payment of the full amount of the judgment for Reeves with a 10-day deadline.
Moody said his position, as Barry’s counsel, was to advise Allstate to pay the full amount and protect his client from having the judgment looming over her. Moody said Allstate consulted with Frederick Valz III of Carlock Copeland & Stair, who represents the company in matters of coverage and bad faith, and then paid up. Valz couldn’t be reached.
Although Moody, described by Jones as “a very talented trial lawyer,” admitted he was not happy to hear the reading of a verdict for $400,000 against his client, he said his contacts at Allstate were “ecstatic” because the plaintiffs had asked the jury for $1 million.
“Allstate considers the verdict to be an excellent result,” Moody said. With $240,000 in special damages, the verdict could have been two or three time that amount.
Moody said jurors told him after the trial that they calculated their award based on the amount of Reeves’ bills, plus the 40 percent contingency they estimated he would owe his lawyers. He said they told him they awarded nothing for pain and suffering, which could have pushed the number up.