A Florida jury has ruled in favor of a plaintiff who filed a suit against his insurance company to receive what he believed to be the full amount owed to him under his policy. The plaintiff believes that the $1.5 million jury verdict in his favor is attributable to the insurance company’s hiding its excessive payments to an expert witness.
On November 12, 2015, Jeffrey Wolfson was in a car crash in Fort Lauderdale. Wolfson experienced a number of debilitating injuries in the crash. Wolfson underwent neck surgery as a result of his accident, in addition to one that he had previously had. Wolfson’s attorney, William Ruggiero, argued that these surgeries are likely to hasten the wear and tear on surrounding discs. Wolfson also suffered a fracture on the vertebra in his lumbar spine, an eye injury, and a mild concussion.
Because the other driver was not insured, Wolfson made a claim against his insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual Insurance, based on his uninsured motorist coverage. Wolfson and Liberty Mutual were unable to come to an amicable settlement, so Wolfson filed a complaint against them in Broward Circuit Court.
Wolfson alleged that Liberty Mutual “failed, refused and otherwise neglected” to compensate Wolfson according to the terms of his policy. His policy states that Liberty Mutual is responsible to “pay all covered losses resulting from the negligence of an uninsured and/or underinsured driver.”
Liberty Mutual argued that Wolfson’s injuries were not as severe as he alleged and presented evidence that the medical treatment he obtained was unnecessarily expensive. The company also suggested that plaintiff’s injuries were due to aging and degradation, rather than caused by the accident.
Liberty Mutual hired a neurologist, ophthalmologist, radiologist, and two orthopedic doctors to bolster its case. Ruggiero says that the radiologist, Dr. Steven Brown, may have played a large role in the favorable verdict for his client.
Initially, Dr. Brown, was deposed by video because he said that he was not available to give testimony at trial. Ruggiero subpoenaed the doctor to appear in court in-person. Dr. Brown said he was unavailable. Ruggiero then asked how much Dr. Brown was being paid for his services. When the court ordered the parties to reveal the amounts, Liberty Mutual revealed that it was paying Dr. Brown $58,000 to testify at trial.
Ruggiero says that the jury’s verdict is largely attributable to the size of Liberty Mutual’s payment to Dr. Brown and its subsequent concealment. Ruggerio said, “I think people were turned off by that number… I’ve been doing this for 28 years and have never seen anything like that number; it was just too big!” Ruggiero noted that Liberty Mutual had paid the ophthalmologist $23,000 and the neurologist $7,000.
The jury awarded Wolfson $1,579,629 total damages: $219,629 in past medical expenses, $150,000 in future medical expenses, $450,000 for past lost earnings, and $360,000 for future lost earnings.