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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
Attorney • (877) 377-7848

County Agrees to $15 Million Settlement After 6 Long Years: Are Guardrails in Your Community Safe?

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This is an interesting and tragic story about the realities of litigation in America. We hear phrases like "lawsuit abuse" and "jackpot justice" spoken in terms of the amounts one person sues another, or a corporation for. And, of course, we hear about so-called "frivolous lawsuits" costing "millions". This is what has to happen to you, in Pennsylvania, to get a county to settle your case for for $15,000,000. And, please note that it will take six long years to reach a settlement. There are two very important ‘litigation lessons’ to be learned here.

Recently, the Camden County Board of Freeholders agreed to the settlement for a 24 year-old young man who lost his leg and had his arm partially severed by a guardrail, when it went through his car. His vehicle had been forced off the road by an oncoming car, in 2004, and ran into the county-maintained barrier.

The young man says that he is "in pain every day"; his case went to trial in 2008 and a jury awarded him $31 Million. The judge reduced the award to $19.3 Million (yes, folks, judges can and often do reduce jury awards; it is one of the little known facts of litigation procedure); the case was appealed and has been pending in the court of appeals, since. As a result, the young man could not afford to see necessary medical treatment specialists. Apparently, the settlement requires payment within four months.

The attorney for the county said the settlement would save the county money and pay the victim what he deserves. He said that the young man…

…"was seriously injured and entitled to a jury award. We wanted to be fair to him."

Interesting. Where was this compassion and fairness six long years ago? Why did the case have to be tried before it was settled? Why isn’t the county paying the reduced jury verdict plus interest instead of the lower settlement amount? After all, this young man had to go to court, go to trial and successfully prove to a Camden County jury that the road in question was dangerous and the guardrail snapped instead of doing what it was supposed to do, absorb the impact. Since this accident, the county has installed new, properly designed guardrails, not only at the accident site, but throughout the entire county.

Of course, part of the litigation hold up was a "delay, deny, confuse and refuse" policy by the county’s insurance carrier, State National. The company refused to pay and the issues moved slowly through the legal system. Had the appeal been permitted to reach a positive conclusion, the county would have been assessed a significant daily interest penalty (approximately $3000 per day). Instead, it decided to pay the settlement amount and fight with its own insurance company for repayment. This is a very unusual result. State National is, apparently, making a career of denying payment in municipal cases on the basis that local municipal retained attorneys did render adequate legal counsel.

This is the first ‘litigation lesson’ of the two I referred to, earlier. I have strong feelings about "delay, deny, confuse and refuse". It is this policy that has led me from the courtroom, where I represented seriously injured people like this unfortunate young man, to the lawsuit funding industry, where I arrange interim lawsuit financial support for plaintiffs who have been given the run-around in a legal system where delay, deny, confuse and refuse" is a regular occurrence and the defense firms and large corporations who employ this strategy are rarely punished for it.

In this case, for instance, this young man desperately needed additional medical procedures that may have enhanced his condition or lessened his pain. But, he couldn’t get them because he couldn’t afford them without sacrificing his valuable case for pennies on the dollar. Had he sought our service and received an approval, a lawsuit cash advance would have paid for this necessary specialist treatment and waiting for repayment out the litigation outcome. And, if the appellate court had ruled against the young man and for the county, reversing the jury verdict, repayment would have been completely excused; the plaintiff keeps the lawsuit funding company’s money free of charge. Lawsuit funding tries to facilitate a level playing field; it tries to prevent injured people from being forced, by financial distress to settle valuable cases too early for too little.

The second "litigation lesson" is this: Are the guardrails in your community safe? Will it take a serious injury or injury lawsuit to get your county or city to make them safe? This important lawsuit had the effect of changing every guardrail in Camden County to a safer guardrail, one that does not snap on impact. Since President Obama’s stimulus plan has encouraged a reassessment of our roads, bridges and overpasses, a check of our guardrail systems are also in order. Jobs will be created and safety will be significantly enhanced. It is sad that this wake up call has literally cost this young man an arm and a leg, however, some good has resulted in Camden County. Maybe, more good can be achieved nationwide. Serious lawsuits for serious injuries over serious issues result in positive change. Lawsuits or threats of lawsuits are the most important safety tools in our society; without them, we would all be less safe. Ask the officials in Camden County.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporationwhich helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life funding is needed during litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.