Wayne Davis, Jr., had a .203 blood-alcohol level, when he drove his pickup across the center line of a Camden County, Missouri, highway on March 24, 2000, and crashed head on into the compact car of Edward and Virginia Johnson.
You’ll be happy to hear that the Johnsons didn’t try to blame the beer company or the auto manufacturer, and simply sued Davis. Davis’s insurer, Allstate, contacted the Johnsons’ attorney, David Sexton, in April, and asked for access to the Johnsons’ medical record. Sexton responded by demanding the policy limits. Allstate requested the medical records three more times, and finally got the records on December 20. (A Dan Margolies Kansas City Star article (via Childs) incorrectly says Allstate did not respond, but the court’s opinion says otherwise.) Allstate immediately agreed to pay the settlement limits, but now Sexton refused, saying his April offer had expired, and he now wanted $3 million from Allstate. We’ll let the Missouri Court of Appeals explain what happened next:
The Johnsons’ suit against Davis did not go to trial. Instead, on November 29, 2004, the Johnsons and Davis entered into an agreement that they titled, “Assignment and Settlement Agreement Pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. Section 537.065 (1986).” In the agreement, Davis admitted that he negligently had allowed his vehicle to cross the highway center line and to collide with the Johnsons’ car head on, that his blood alcohol content was .203 percent, and that his conduct of driving while intoxicated showed complete indifference to, or conscious disregard for, the safety of others. Davis consented to judgment for the Johnsons for $2.5 million in actual damages, $1.5 million in punitive damages, and more than $1 million in prejudgment interest, plus costs. In return for the Johnsons’ covenant not to execute the judgment against him, Davis assigned to the Johnsons 90 percent of his bad faith refusal to settle claim against Allstate.
Davis and the Johnsons then sued Allstate; a jury was not allowed to hear about the settlement agreement, just that Davis was liable for $5 million. A Jackson County, Missouri, jury awarded $5.8 million in compensatory damages, and $10.5 million in punitive damages, thus rewarding Sexton’s sandbagging of the insurance company. On Tuesday, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed. If the Supreme Court of Missouri also signs off, drunk-driver Davis will be a millionaire. Just another case of trial lawyers putting profits ahead of people–and ordinary Missouri citizens will be paying a lot more for insurance when the drunk driving of an insured holding a $50,000 policy can make the insurer liable for $16 million. (Johnson v. Allstate Insurance Co., No. WD68189, Mo. App. Jul. 29, 2008).
For a Utah example of profiting through bad driving, see June 19, 2007.