The estate of a woman who was killed in a high-speed car crash has agreed to settle its wrongful death suit against the woman’s husband for $6.55 million, its attorneys report.
Robert Phillips of McGowan Hood Felder & Phillips in Rock Hill and Bert “Skip” Utsey of Clawson Fargnoli Utsey in Charleston report that Helen Phillips and Ashley Phillips were already experiencing marital difficulties six weeks after they were married in 2017. During an argument, Ashley “coerced” his new bride to go out in her vehicle, the attorneys said.
Ashley, who had been drinking, sped down the winding back roads of Chesterfield County and lost control of the vehicle, slamming into a telephone pole. Ashley suffered serious injuries but was able to free himself from the vehicle. Helen survived approximately two weeks before succumbing to her injuries, her attorneys said.
The attorneys said that the vehicle’s insurer tendered its coverage limits of $50,000, but the insurer of seven commercial vehicles used by Ashley’s business initially asserted the limiting vehicle doctrine to tender just $175,000 ($25,000 per vehicle) in total underinsured motorist coverage (UIM).
Phillips said that the estate’s attorneys believed that the vehicle in the crash also qualified as an insured vehicle under the commercial policy, which would trigger $1 million in bodily injury coverage, and that while the limiting vehicle doctrine could have been in play, the commercial policy provided superseding coverage and would thus allow for an additional $7 million in UIM coverage.
The attorneys said that the insurer agreed to tender the $1 million in bodily injury limits in exchange for a covenant, and that plaintiffs learned during discovery that Ashley also had a $3 million personal umbrella policy through another insurer. That insurer tendered the liability coverage after plaintiff’s attorneys issued a time-limited demand.
After a protracted mediation, the parties settled the case for an additional $2.5 million, Phillips said. The case was mediated by Tom Wills of Charleston.
“The total of the four settlements ($6,550,000) is believed to be the largest spouse vs. spouse result in the history of South Carolina,” Phillips wrote in an email.
Robert King of King, Love, Hupfer & Nance in Florence and Dominic Starr of McAngus Goudelock & Courie in Myrtle Beach represented the defendants. Starr said that he was unable to comment before press time.
Phillips said that defense counsel argued that the case would have a lower value because the crash was an accident and Ashley was extremely remorseful.
“However, counsel for Plaintiff was able to find Facebook posts that were available publicly on the Defendant’s friends’ Facebook pages that tended to show he was not remorseful but, in fact, rather callous about the death of his newlywed wife,” Phillips wrote. “This discovery substantially increased the value of the tort action.”
SETTLEMENT REPORT — WRONGFUL DEATH
Amount: $6.55 million
Injuries alleged: Death and conscious pain and suffering
Case name: Burr v. Phillips
Court: Chesterfield County Circuit Court
Case No.: 2019-CP-13-00208
Mediator: Tom Wills of Charleston
Date of settlement: Dec. 2021
Attorneys for plaintiff: Robert Phillips of McGowan Hood Felder & Phillips in Rock Hill and Bert “Skip” Utsey of Clawson Fargnoli Utsey in Charleston
Attorneys for defendant: Robert King of King, Love, Hupfer & Nance in Florence and Dominic Starr of McAngus Goudelock & Courie in Myrtle Beach