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Tyger River demand, negligence, net victim $1.1 million award

By: Heath Hamacher//August 4, 2015

Tyger River demand, negligence, net victim $1.1 million award

By: Heath Hamacher//August 4, 2015

For cutting an auto accident claim check just a tad too late, Nationwide Insurance will pay a $1.1 million judgment to the victim, a federal judge in Charleston has ruled. Finding the incident more mistake than malice, the judge determined in a July 30 order that punitive damages would not be appropriate, however.

According to court documents, plaintiff Emilio Urena was traveling through an intersection in Moncks Corner on Jan. 22, 2012 when a vehicle driven by Gregory Bryant rear-ended him at about 100 mph.

Bryant’s blood alcohol level was later determined to be .30, nearly four times the legal limit to operate a vehicle.

Urena suffered traumatic brain injury, 14 fractured ribs and numerous other injuries. He was airlifted to the Medical University of South Carolina and later developed numerous complications and mental difficulties.

Bryant, records show, was insured by a Nationwide liability policy that covered $25,000 for bodily injury and $25,000 for property damage. Urena filed a claim with the insurance company and hired representation.

An adjustor on Nationwide’s attorney negotiation team, Tina Ramsey, investigated the claim and noted in the claim file, according to court documents, that “liability is clear” since Bryant was apparently speeding and driving under the influence. All the coverage would be exhausted, Ramsey wrote in the report, communicating to Bryant that there was a potential for personal exposure.

On Feb. 7, 2012, Ramsey’s supervisor said in an email to Ramsey that “this [is] likely a limits case and can be settled once the package is in,” according to court documents.

After seeing photos of Urena in the hospital and of both vehicles, Ramsey evaluated the claim on Feb. 15, 2012 at $109,000 with medical expenses of at least $59,000. The next day, Urena’s counsel faxed a letter to Nationwide containing a time-limit demand.

According to the the complaint drafted by Urena’s attorney, Johnny Driggers of the Driggers Law Firm in Goose Creek, this was the second time-demand letter. The first, sent on Jan. 31, 2012, demanded payment within 10 days.

The February 15 fax stated: “If we have not received the settlement checks by the close of business tomorrow, or the funds are not wired directly to my trust account, I will advise my client to reject any forthcoming receipt of the policy limits as being untimely.”

According to court documents, two adjustors discussed the letter but not the time-limit demand. Ramsey reportedly admitted to not reading the paragraph containing the time demand and said that had she read it, she would have complied.

On Feb. 17, 2012, a Friday, Ramsey mailed a check to Driggers. Because Monday was a federal holiday, the check did not arrive until February 21. It was promptly returned because it had not been timely received per the demand letter.

In his case against Bryant, a jury deliberated an hour and a half before awarding Urena $1,150,000 on Dec. 12, 2013.

The bad-faith case against Nationwide was a bench trial, tried July 20, 2015 before District Judge David Norton, who also presided over the original case. Norton found that the insurance company failed to adhere to the standard of care by failing to read the demand letter completely and tender payment in a timely manner.

Norton made the $1.1 million award based on the $50,000 Nationwide had already tendered.

“The damages were foreseeable, evidenced by Ramsey’s testimony that she knew of the potential that Bryant could be exposed to a larger judgment if Nationwide did not settle within policy limits,” Norton wrote.

The demand letter made it clear, Norton wrote, that Urena would not accept a settlement offer after close of business on Feb. 17, 2012.

“This was a very simple case of negligence,” Driggers said. “The adjuster simply did not read the time demand.”

While Nationwide’s conduct was negligent, it wasn’t reckless or conscious disregard for Bryant’s rights, Norton found, denying punitive damages.

Nationwide’s attorney, Edward Cole of Turner Padget Graham & Laney in Myrtle Beach, declined to comment.




Amount: $1.1 million

Case name: Emilio Urena, as assignee of Gregory Bryant v. Nationwide Insurance Company of America

Court: U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

Case number: 2:13-cv-03544-DCN

Date: July 30

Attorneys for plaintiff:  Johnny Driggers of the Driggers Law Firm, Goose Creek and Gedney Howe III and Alvin Hammer of the Gedney Howe Law Offices, Charleston

Attorney for defendant: Edward Cole of Turner Padget Graham & Laney, Myrtle Beach


Follow Heath Hamacher on Twitter @SCLWHamacher

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