My client lived in Birmingham. She was in a wreck when her car was hit by a young guy - he was speeding and he seemed to be drunk. Her injuries were fractured rib and finger, collapsed lung and an ulna fracture. She stayed in the hospital overnight. No surgeries.
The total subrogation claim was $14,000 reduced to $9,700.
The case had problems.
For one thing, the police never tested or checked the young driver for whether he was intoxicated. He was taken from the scene in an ambulance. This creates problems from the standpoint of proof - when those charged with enforcing the law didn’t think that there was a problem, then the question arises - was there really ever a problem?
The young driver said under oath that he had a couple of beers. His insurance company made us a policy limits offer of $50,000. The vehicle insurance was in his name, his dad had given him a bill of sale and canceled the insurance on the vehicle months earlier.
At this point - we had a signed, dated bill of sale, canceled insurance, a new liability policy issued months ago to the young driver - and a policy limits offer.
You may recall that, in Alabama, the ownership of a car is determined by the parties’ intent, not how the car is registered in Montgomery. Here, the father provided an affidavit that he had given the vehicle to his son - the insurance change that happened months earlier supported their version of events - that the son, not the father, owned the vehicle.
In other words, there can be no case of negligent entrustment when a father no longer owns the vehicle.
I kept going - I had sued the father for negligent entrustment. The other side filed a motion for summary judgment. I deposed the father. I used that deposition to defeat the MSJ.
In all, I took 17 depositions in this case.
By the end of it, I was able to bring to light that the father had signed an affidavit, after the wreck, that the vehicle was his, that he was paid for the vehicle when it sold at auction. I also uncovered that his son had a series of traffic violations leading up to this incident.
I hired a forensic toxicologist to help prove that the “couple of beers” were really 12 or 13 beers. This was not easy because it required subpoenas to get the driver’s medical records from the hospital - and, then, deposing several employees of the hospital - to connect the dots.
This was a case - I believe by many plaintiff’s attorneys standards, would have ended when the insurance company placed $50,000 on the table.
When all was said and done, the total settlement was $675,000.
I increased the value of the case from $50,000 to $675,000 by adding the negligent entrustment claim, establishing that claim, and showing that the young driver was intoxicated at the time of the wreck.
This was a significant benefit to my client - putting around $425,000 in her pocket vs $20,000.
Don't forget about the negligent entrustment claim - it can turn an ordinary claim into an extraordinary one.