Butler Kahn obtained a settlement that was over four times the available insurance coverage in a motorcycle accident case. We faced substantial hurdles because the at-fault driver had fled the scene of the wreck and our client’s motorcycle was not street-legal. However, we were able to overcome those obstacles through witness work and getting security camera footage of the accident, which helped us identify the hit-and-run driver and prove liability.
Here’s more about the case.
Facts of the Motorcycle Accident
On a Saturday afternoon, Mike Johnson* was riding his motorcycle down Moreland Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. As Mr. Johnson approached an intersection, a black Chevy Malibu suddenly turned left in front of Mr. Johnson. There was nothing Mr. Johnson could do to avoid the collision. His motorcycle hit the car, catapulting Mr. Johnson off the motorcycle through the air. Mr. Johnson violently landed on the asphalt and tumbled several yards. Mr. Johnson was able to get up and limp to the side of the road where he fell to the ground. The impact was so hard that Mr. Johnson broke his fibula and the skin from his hands was torn off.
Instead of staying at the scene of the wreck, the at-fault driver fled. Fortunately, a witness was able to identify the make and model of the striking vehicle, which the investigating officer included in his police report. Unfortunately, the investigating officer also noted in his report that Mr. Johnson was not supposed to be riding a “dirt bike” on a city street and that his injuries were “minor.”
Obviously, Mr. Johnson’s injuries were not “minor.”
Determining Fault for the Motorcycle Accident
We faced two significant obstacles. First, we didn’t know the identity of the hit-and-run driver, which meant there was no insurance coverage other than Mr. Johnson’s own policy. Second, the investigating officer reported that our client was driving a motorcycle that was not street legal.
As to the unknown hit-and-run driver, we were able to discover the driver’s identity through a witness who had written down the license plate. Using the hit-and-run driver’s license plate, we were able to identify the owner of the vehicle. As it turned out, the driver was not insured, but he was a house guest of the vehicle’s owner, who was insured. We were able to sue the driver for his hit-and-run and the owner for negligently entrusting the vehicle to the driver, who had a history of questionable driving-related arrests. Because the owner had insurance coverage, there was more money available to provide for Mr. Johnson’s injuries.
Both the hit-and-run driver and the car’s owner who had negligently entrusted the car denied any responsibility for the accident. The defense largely relied on the fact that Mr. Johnson was not riding a street legal motorcycle. We were able to overcome this obstacle through a visit to the scene of the collision. One of our lawyers spoke with nearby businesses in an attempt to find more witnesses or even video footage of the wreck. One business had a security camera aimed directly at where the wreck happened, so we were able to get footage showing Mr. Johnson being flung over the black car that had turned in front of him.
The footage was critical to overcoming any defense related to Mr. Johnson’s illegal motorcycle. That is, the video footage showed that Mr. Johnson had not contributed to the wreck and that he would have been injured regardless of whether his motorcycle was legal or not.
Accident Settlement above Insurance Limits
Although we were able to neutralize some of the obstacles, we still faced a significant risk that a jury would blame Mr. Johnson for riding on an illegal motorcycle – even if he couldn’t have avoided the collision. For that reason, we sent a letter offering to settle Mr. Johnson’s case for the policy limits of the vehicle owner’s insurance coverage. To accept the offer, we asked the at-fault driver’s insurance company to deliver us a check for the policy limits as well as an affidavit from the insurance company confirming that there was no additional coverage.
The insurance company did not provide the affidavit within the time identified in the offer. In other words, the insurance company failed to validly and unequivocally accept the offer we sent on behalf of Mr. Johnson, placing the personal assets of its insurance customer at risk. A few weeks later we served what’s called a Rule 68 offer, which is found at O.C.G.A. § 9-11-68. A Rule 68 offer can be an effective tool for settlement because if the verdict at trial exceeds the offer by 125%, then the defendant is responsible for paying attorney’s fees in addition to the verdict. In other words, it forces the insurance company to realistically assess the value of the case.
In our Rule 68 offer, we gave the insurance company the opportunity to settle the case for four times the policy limits, which would provide Mr. Johnson with enough to compensate him for his past and future medical bills and past and future pain and suffering. A few days later, the phone rang. The defendant accepted the offer, and the case was resolved favorably for our client.
Obtaining a Motorcycle Accident Settlement above Insurance Limits
Mr. Johnson was in what some might call a pickle. He was badly injured, but the identity of the at-fault driver was unknown, and the investigating police officer had reported that he was riding an illegal motorcycle. Many lawyers would have called it a loss, collected the uninsured motorist coverage, and left Mr. Johnson without full compensation. We’re proud to say that we left no stone uncovered. We spoke to the witnesses and got out to the scene to make sure we had all the evidence. Because of that extra effort, we were able to settle Mr. Johnson’s motorcycle accident case for $125,000 – five times the available insurance coverage. He was pleased.
*The names of the people involved have been changed to protect privacy.