Bellingham attorney Bill Coats’ handling of a case with multiple defendants shows how a careful bike accident attorney can use the principle of “divide and conquer” to obtain over a million dollar settlement for his client.
The story begins with a teenage prank gone wrong. Six high school kids are out on a Saturday night in Lynden, Washington. One has a roll of industrial strength Saran Wrap that he took from work. The kids decide it would be fun to stretch the wrap across the road and see what happens when a car drives through it. One boy drives the group (the “driver”). The boy with the wrap and his best friend secure the plastic barrier around a phone pole, across the road and around a post on the other side (the “wrappers”). Two school mates come along as lookouts (“lookouts”). A sixth kid from a different school follows the group in his own car (the “bystander”). They all hide and wait in anticipation.
Dr. Berry, a veterinarian, is biking to his clinic to treat a sick dog. He is peddling downhill on the same road the boys had set up their prank. Dr. Berry nearly has his head taken off as he hits the wrap at about 20 mph. Dr. Berry is a great athlete and is able to stay on his bike, but the collision exerted a tremendous force down his spine.
At first Dr. Berry did not think he was badly hurt. However, a few months later, while sitting up from a chair, he doubled over in pain and was diagnosed with a herniated disc at L4-5. Dr. Berry originally hired another lawyer. After over a year, the lawyer had only sent introduction letters to the boys’ parents’ insurance companies and requested some medical records. Dr. Berry did not feel his first personal injury attorney valued his case.
A challenge in the case was the delay between the accident and the onset of serious back symptoms. But, as any experienced personal injury attorney knows, this is a difficulty which can be overcome with effective medical testimony. Bellingham personal injury attorney Bill Coats took the case.
A key challenge was to divide fault appropriately between the six boys. Bill Coats filed a lawsuit and immediately took depositions of the boys. Bill took the position that since Dr. Berry was without fault, the boys were all jointly responsible. Under the Restatement of Torts, physical participation is not necessary to establish liability; advice and encouragement is sufficient. Because the boys lived at home, their parents’ homeowner’s insurance would have to pay any jury verdict up to the limit of the homeowner’s insurance policy.
Mediation was scheduled with Teresa Wakeen. Bill Coats stressed that each of the insurance companies must understand 1) every boy is jointly liable for the total of all damages, 2) the share of damages for any boy who had limited insurance would therefore be paid by the others, and 3) therefore, even the “lookouts” and “bystander” were potentially responsible for the total of all damages.
At the first mediation, Attorney Coats focused on the “bystander” and “lookouts”. The lawyers for the “wrappers” and the “driver” had an incentive to pressure the others to pay as much as possible because any money obtained from the others would diminish the ultimate cost to them.
During the first mediation, one “lookout” settled for $100,000. A short time later, the other “lookout” settled for $75,000, and the “bystander” kicked in $25,000, for a total of $200,000. This left only the boys who were most responsible: the two “wrappers” and the “driver”.
Attorney Coats then scheduled a second mediation through mediator Keith Kubik, with only the “driver” and pointed out how difficult it would be for any of the remaining defendants to try to place blame on the “lookouts” or “bystander”, who were now no longer defendants in the case. The “driver” settled for $165,000.
A third mediation, with Thomas Harris of WAMS, involved only the two remaining wrappers. Bill Coats pointed out that they would have a very difficult time trying to blame four less-responsible boys, since they had taken the heavy duty Saran wrap from work, and had themselves wrapped it across the road.
At the conclusion of the third mediation, one “wrapper” settled for an additional $450,000, leaving one lone “wrapper” who had a policy limit of $300,000 on his homeowners insurance. Bill Coats wrote to the “wrapper’s” insurance company, that failure to accept a settlement for policy limits would put them on the hook for any judgment in excess of $300,000. Shortly thereafter, they settled for policy limits of $300,000.
Total settlement in the “divide and conquer” mediation process was $1,115,000.
If you have a case where you or someone you love was hurt on a bicycle, a creative and experienced attorney can be a wonderful asset in your recovery. Visit this page to learn more about how Bill handles bicycle accidents occurring in Bellingham and Whatcom County.