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$400K Verdict in Cobb County Will Be Limited by Policy

Insurance policy cap forced plaintiff to seek only $70K, but her lawyer fears that won't cover her surgery

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Jonathan Pope
Jonathan Pope

A mother of two young children who hurt her back in an interstate pileup has won a $400,000 verdict in Cobb County State Court, but the money will be coming from her insurance company, not that of the defendant driver who hit her. Also, her recovery will be limited by the rules of her $100,000 uninsured and underinsured motorist policy.

"It was a good verdict in a conservative venue," said the winning lawyer, Jonathan Pope, who tried the case with Dustin Davies. They're both with Hasty Pope in Canton.

The jury took two hours to deliberate following a three-day trial before Cobb County State Court Judge Melodie Clayton. The Dec. 12 verdict included $42,000 for past medical expenses, $49,000 for future medical expenses and $309,000 for pain and suffering for a total of $400,000. The plaintiff, Valerie Crisp, presented evidence to show her doctors had advised surgery to repair a herniated disc in her lower back, but she had not been able to afford it because she has no health insurance.

The defendant driver, Connie Whitney, died later from causes unrelated to the accident. Her estate and her insurer, Alfa Specialty Insurance Corp., settled with Crisp for their $25,000 policy limit.

But the case went to trial to resolve a dispute between Crisp and her insurance carrier, State Farm. She was suing State Farm under her $100,000 uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage. The $25,000 Alfa already paid would have to be deducted from her UM claim, plus another $5,000 that State Farm had paid on her medical bills. The total she was seeking from State Farm was $70,000. The company's highest offer, on the eve of the trial, was $50,000, according to her attorney.

"They were fighting over a small amount of money," said J. Gregory Godsey of the Godsey Firm, who represented Whitney's estate, retained by Alfa.

As a result of the settlement, Whitney's estate agreed with the plaintiff's set of facts: that Whitney caused the wreck; that the wreck caused Crisp's back injury; that Crisp needed surgery and had already incurred nearly $42,000 of medical bills that were "reasonable and necessary," according to the consolidated pretrial order.

But State Farm argued that the wreck didn't cause Crisp's back injury and presented medical records evidence showing she had complained of pain in her lower back to a doctor six months before the wreck.

"We felt we had a good case," said State Farm defense attorney J. Colby Jones of Downey & Cleveland. He said he told the jury the injury was worth no more than $50,000, while Pope asked for $900,000.

Crisp was 28 when the accident occurred in September 2010, according to her lawyers and the complaint. She was driving a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee north on Interstate 575 in heavy traffic at about 6 p.m. She came to a complete stop behind the last car in front of her.

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