The estate of a man killed when his vehicle was struck head-on during a police pursuit has settled its wrongful death claims for a total of $1,400,000, his attorneys report.
On April 6, 2017, Liberty police well exceeded 100 mph while chasing 29-year-old Nicholas Blackstock through town for a faulty brake light. According to reports, officers had gotten word from another police department that Blackstock might have had drugs in the vehicle. The chase, which lasted approximately 10 minutes, ended soon after Blackstock and a pursuing officer crossed the centerline on U.S. Highway 123. The chase continued for about a mile, against oncoming traffic, before Blackstock crashed into 59-year-old Steven Richardson, killing him.
Attorneys for Richardson’s estate, Samuel Clawson Jr. and Christy Fargnoli of Clawson & Fargnoli in Charleston, said that Blackstock was under the influence of a “variety of drugs,” including methamphetamine, at the time of the crash.
Clawson and Fargnoli said that Richardson’s insurer, Auto Owners, tendered the full $300,000 limits of underinsured motorist bodily injury coverage, but only $50,000 of the UIM property damage because the issue of pro rata allocation of punitive damages across coverages was a novel question that had been certified to the South Carolina Supreme Court. After the court determined in Geico v. Poole that these damages should not be allocated pro rata, the attorneys said, Auto Owners tendered the remaining $250,000 of UIM property damage coverage.
Blackstock’s insurer, Geico, tendered $50,000 for bodily injury and property damage limits.
Richardson’s estate also claimed that Liberty’s police officers were negligent in the “initiation, conduct, and failure to terminate” the high-speed pursuit, asserting that Blackstock’s initial violation, an equipment violation, was far outweighed by the danger a high-speed chase posed to the public.
“Multiple occurrences were alleged under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act in an effort to obtain multiple actual damage caps,” Clawson and Fargnoli wrote in an email. “The South Carolina Municipal Insurance Risk Financing Fund tendered $750,000 on behalf of the City of Liberty to settle all claims pre-suit.”
Clawson said that the firm is proud to have maximized the value of the various claims by “advancing arguments relating to the recovery of punitive damages from property damage coverage under an insurance policy and multiple occurrences” under the Tort Claims Act.
Added Fargnoli: “We were not the first to advance these arguments, but hopefully our work on these claims will assist future plaintiffs in obtaining full value on their claims and not allow insurance companies and government entities to hide behind policy language and statutory law to improperly limit their exposure.”
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SETTLEMENT REPORT — WRONGFUL DEATH
Amount: $1.4 million
Case name: Tracy Mattison as Personal Representative of the Estate of Steven Richardson vs. Nicholas Blackstock and City of Liberty
Court: Settled pretrial
Date of settlement: Aug. 1
Most helpful experts: Geoffrey Alpert, criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina and police misconduct expert witness
Attorneys for plaintiff: Samuel Clawson Jr. and Christy Fargnoli of Clawson Fargnoli in Charleston
Attorneys for defendant: Kyle Thompson of Willson Jones Carter Baxley in Greenville for Nicholas Blackstock; James P. Walsh of Clarkson Walsh & Coulter in Greenville for Auto Owners; Jim Jolly of Logan Jolly & Smith in Anderson for the city of Liberty and the officers individually