State Farm trial over denied policy benefits ends with $44k judgment

David Yates Mar. 31, 2008, 9:32am

A Jefferson County jury ordered State Farm to pay a woman more than $44,000 in damages for injuries she received in a 2003 auto wreck.

On March 28, Carolyn Henderson was awarded $44,300 after a three day trial in Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court.

In 2003, Henderson was injured in an automobile collision when an "underinsured motorist" swerved into her lane. After the incident, Henderson petitioned her insurance company, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance, for additional policy benefits but claims she was unjustly turned down.

Henderson filed suit against State Farm in 2006, claiming State Farm refused to pay all the benefits due to her under the insurance policy.

During the trial, jurors heard testimony that Henderson was forced to miss three weeks of work due to her injuries.

To compensate Henderson for denial of her policy, jurors awarded her $1,200 in lost wages and $6,000 in medical expenses.

Outside of the policy, jurors ordered State Farm to pay Henderson $30,000 for physical pain, $3,600 for impairment and $3,500 in mental anguish.

In her suit, Henderson says "underinsured motorist" Sonya Annette Sims negligently caused the automobile collision on June 30, 2003, when Sims failed to keep a proper lookout and came into Henderson's lane. "This collision … was proximately caused by the negligence of Sims," the plaintiff claimed.

In its original answer, State Farm said Henderson's allegations concerning Sims negligence were "improper blanket allegations."

"Based on this improper blanket allegation, State Farm cannot determine what conduct Plaintiff is complaining of by the alleged tortfeasor, Sonya Annette Sims," the answer stated. "Nowhere in Plaintiff's Original Petition does Plaintiff state any supporting facts for the above stated blanket allegation."

Plaintiff's attorney James Payne persuaded jurors that Henderson's State Farm policy provided payment for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, personal injury protection, bodily injury liability, property damage liability, and towing and labor costs.

"Despite written and oral requests for payment, the Defendant has failed and refused and still fails and refuses to pay all the benefits due and owing to Plaintiff under the insurance policy," the suit said.

"[T]he failure and refusal of the Defendant to make all payments due and owing to Plaintiff … is a result of an intentional and willful refusal in good faith to settle the above referenced claim, and for that reason, Plaintiff is entitled to recover exemplary damages."

Payne is an attorney for the Provost Umphrey law firm.

State Farm is represented by attorney Clint Lewis of Lewis & Associates.

Case No. D177-014

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