Avoiding the Peril of an Uncollectible Judgment in Your California Injury Case

Your California auto accident may have inflicted massive harm upon you. You may have racked up huge medical bills, may have lost a lot of wages due to missed time at work and you probably experienced a great deal of pain and suffering. Getting true justice, then, means finding ways to ensure that you can actually recover the total amount of damages that the court awards you, and aren’t just stuck with a largely (or perhaps even completely) uncollectible judgment. This is just one of many essential considerations when it comes to getting an appropriate result in your injury case. To make sure you are positioned to get all of what you deserve, be sure you have a skilled San Mateo injury attorney fighting for you.

Getting that best possible result may, in many situations, require detailed legal knowledge. Again, a skilled legal advocate can help immensely. Here’s a real-life example from Placer County. A.M. was seriously hurt in an intersection accident where A.H. reportedly ran a red light.

In a case like that, you may, in addition to the at-fault driver, be able to pursue compensation from an auto insurer and, if the at-fault driver was engaged in activity furthering the interests of his employer when the crash happened, you may also be able to name the employer and obtain a judgment against that entity as well.

In A.M.’s case, there was no employment involved but A.H. did have a $100,000 auto insurance policy. Because A.H. had died while the case was ongoing, A.M. was limited to recovering only that $100,000 policy limit. (A.H.’s estate was virtually devoid of assets.)

A.M.’s legal team decided to employ a shrewd approach. The woman’s attorneys knew the case was worth well more than $100,000 but that the injured woman could get nothing more than the $100,000 limit. So, the plaintiff’s attorneys made a valid offer of compromise under Code of Civil Procedure Section 998. That’s the statute that allows you to recover certain additional costs if the defense rejects the settlement offer and your jury award “beats” the settlement offer by more than 25%. (A.M.’s offer amount was $99,999.)

The insurance company rejected the offer and the case went to trial. The jury found for A.M. and assessed damages at $180,000. Because the jury award was more than 25% more than the settlement offer (80.6%), the injured woman argued that she was entitled to recover some $66,000 in costs she had incurred, including those related to expert witness fees, jury fees and court reporter fees. The insurer argued that, because it was not a named party (the lawsuit technically was against A.H.’s probate estate), it could not be liable for paying a costs award under Section 998.

Who was right? The appeals court said the injured plaintiff was. The purpose of Section 998 was to encourage settlements, the court reminded readers. Allowing an auto insurer like this one to refuse a reasonable settlement with no fear that it could possibly become obliged to pay costs under Section 998 would undermine that law’s intention, which was to motivate parties to settle and to punish those parties who refused settlement offers that they should have accepted, thereby forcing the other side to undertake the significant costs of litigating a case that should have ended via settlement instead of a trial.

Each accident case will inevitably present its own set of unique challenges. Be sure you’re ready to meet those challenges by getting the legal representation you need. Contact the skilled San Mateo personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos, who have been helping injured people for many years. To set up a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

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