December 24, 2021 • By Dennis Beaver
“In June of 2021 you had an hysterical article about a parking lot accident at a Jack in the Box in St. Louis, Missouri that involved a cast of characters suitable for Saturday Night Live,” began an email from ‘Eddie,’ a retired insurance claims manager on the East Coast.
“It involved the owner of a driving school who, without looking, backed out of a parking spot and into a car owned by a 21 year-old university student. The driving instructor admitted fault, but my former employer jerked this poor girl around for months.
“Your story provided great consumer education on how an insurance company should not act, and has circulated widely among my former colleagues who are embarrassed by what happened.
“You indicated that the student was going to sue the driving instructor in Small Claims Court for property damage and promised to keep us informed. What was the final outcome?”
The Company that Gets You Sued!
To recap, university student Allison Ashbrook was offered $1,700 by the insurance company to total her car, which had a present day value of close to $5,000. Claims adjuster Ahron Espino sent her a letter stating that she was 25% responsible, for “inattention and failing to take evasive action,” even though their insured admitted fault.
Strangely, Espino referred to California insurance regulations, even though the accident happened 2,000 miles away, in Missouri! This led to Allison finding my column and contacting me.
I left voice mails for the driving instructor, Patrick Gilfoy, urging him to get his lawyer involved and tell the insurer to get the matter settled so that he isn’t sued. Apparently, that never happened.
Off to Small Claims Court
If I cause an accident, my insurance company is obligated to settle the claim–or at least try in good faith – so that I do not wind up in court. Especially if I own a driving school it doesn’t look too good for me to be sued for causing an accident, does it? Do you think the insurance company cared about Patrick’s reputation as the owner of a driving school and its instructor?
Allison filed suit in Small Claims Court along with a complaint to the Missouri Department of Insurance. They contacted the insurer, and guess what? She gets a letter saying, “We have reconsidered and you are zero percent at fault!”
Don’t confuse me with the Facts Just Dismiss Your Suit!
Even though the insurance company admitted their insured was 100% at fault, Allison receives a letter from Gilfoy’s lawyer, Theodore G. Hughes – who works for a law firm that represents the insurance company: “Patrick denies all claims in the filing of the small claims, and would like to be dismissed.”
“He also phoned, was condescending, and did not offer to compensate me at all! (At least he is consistent, hanging up on me when I tried to discuss the case.) But in court, he admitted the accident was not my fault and says that I should only be awarded $2,300 if I keep my car.”
The Small Claims Court judge awarded her $4,300 plus court costs. But the insurance company refused to pay her! “Finally, I located their corporate responsibility person in Missouri and sent her a copy of the judgment. I received their check a few days later.”
Breached Their Duty to Patrick
St. Louis attorney, Cassie Bulgaski, who handles insurance bad faith cases, was happy that Allison finally got paid, and has observations about this case that anyone who has auto insurance needs to be aware of.
“The (company) lawyer was hired to represent the best interests of his client, the insured, not the best interests of (the company), and this is something that Patrick should be upset about.
“The best interests of his client would have been to pay the young lady so that there was no possibility of a judgment against him. Though (the company) has paid the claim, it’s still going to show up on a credit report and a search of Missouri Case.Net that he had a judgment against him and could potentially cause problems for his business, future customers, etc.
“Shame on (the company) for allowing it to get that far. Shame on them for allowing a low judgment to be entered when it all could have been avoided. They paid an attorney to appear, they should have put the funds spent on counsel to better use and simply paid out the claim. Rather, they were more interested in being litigious.”
What my Reader Gained from this Experience
I asked Allison, “What have you learned from all of this?”
“Insurance companies do not care about the public, regardless of their ads on television. I learned how to assemble my case and put it on. By carrying your column, newspapers are providing a tremendous value to their readers with such helpful information! Thank you, Mr. Beaver.”
Thank you, Allison for contacting me.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.