A recent case out of West Virginia’s Supreme Court provides a glimpse into the types of settlement negotiations that often go on in car accident cases and the lengths to which some insurance companies go to limit the amount of the claims they pay out.
Ms. Tuttle was injured in a car accident in March 2012 when a vehicle driven by Ms. Baire crossed the center line and collided with Tuttle’s oncoming car. Tuttle’s car slid off the road and overturned. A police officer who investigated the crash found that Baire was completely responsible for the accident. Baire’s father owned the vehicle and was insured under a policy from State Farm.
Tuttle later retained a lawyer who sent a settlement demand to State Farm, requesting more than $44,000 to settle Tuttle’s claims related to the accident. An attorney for the company countered with an offer of $17,000. Tuttle’s attorney responded by requesting $43,000 and including documentation showing that Tuttle had already accumulated medical bills in excess of $12,000. In response, the State Farm lawyer increased the settlement proposal to $19,500.
Tuttle’s attorney countered with a “final offer” of $40,500 and said Tuttle would sue the company if it didn’t accept. The lawyer in response received a fax from the State Farm attorney in which he wrote “Please be advised based on the current info, I am meet your $40500 counter demand” and asked the lawyer to call him to discuss the matter. Tuttle’s lawyer responded by confirming what he believed to be State Farm’s acceptance of the final offer and provided instructions for wiring the money. A day later, however, the State Farm lawyer explained that the fax inadvertently left out the words “unable to.” As such, the lawyer said he’d meant to convey that he was “unable to meet” the settlement demand.
A trial court denied Tuttle’s lawsuit to enforce the supposed settlement. It found that there had been no “meeting of the minds” between the two lawyers on the terms of the settlement, an element necessary in order for a court to enforce a contract. Since no contract existed under West Virginia law, the court said it was powerless to enforce it.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Supreme Court agreed that State Farm was entitled to summary judgment. “Since a compromise and settlement is contractual in nature, a definite meeting of the minds of the parties is essential to a valid compromise,” the Court explained, citing its 1990 decision in O’Connor v. GCC Beverages, Inc. Here, the Court said the State Farm attorney didn’t provide a “clear and unequivocal” acceptance of the Tuttle offer. His apparent mistake in drafting the fax didn’t automatically convert the document into an acceptance, according to the Court.
As this case shows, car accident cases often involve wrangling with large insurance companies that regularly try to low ball crash victims in an attempt to save a few bucks. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, it’s important to discuss your options with an experienced attorney before taking any deals from an insurer.
The Wolfe Law Firm can help. Our West Virginia car accident lawyers have been serving clients throughout the state for more than 25 years. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of personal injury matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.
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