Injured Illinois Worker Fights Back Against Defense’s Failure to Disclose Insurance Policy Limit

home constructionIf you are injured while working at a construction site, the harm you incur may be very serious. In addition to concerning yourself with getting back to full health, you also likely have a need to seek compensation for your injuries. When you do that, you’ll need experienced injury counsel, who will not only have a keen familiarity with the facts of your case but who also have an in-depth knowledge of the law and procedural rules, in order to make sure that the other side is “playing fair” in accordance with the law. In one recent case that went before the First District Appellate Court, a defense team’s failure to make an appropriate disclosure and an injured worker’s ability to hold it legally accountable for that failure enabled the worker to have access to a potentially greater recovery.

The worker in this case was an employee of a subcontractor that was engaged in a home building project in Will County. At this site, the employee, who was a service technician, was attempting to replace a furnace filter when the stairs beneath him collapsed, sending him crashing into the house’s basement. The injured technician sued the project’s general contractor for negligence. The crux of his claim was that the general contractor had a duty to provide him with a safe work area (including the stairway) but had not done so.

The general contractor had insurance, and the insurer handled the defense on the general contractor’s behalf. The lawyers hired by the insurance company filed a response, and, among the disclosures made in the case, the lawyers stated that the general contractor’s insurance policy limit was $1 million.

The general contractor’s insurance policy also contained another provision in it that reduced the insurance company’s maximum payout from $1 million to $50,000 if the general contractor had not secured “hold harmless” agreements from its subcontractors, which this contractor had failed to do. Although the insurer told the general contractor about the application of this policy sub-limit provision, the defense never modified the pleadings or the discovery responses in the technician’s case, meaning that the technician had no knowledge of the existence or the application of this sub-limit.

The technician won his case and secured a jury verdict against the general contractor for $255,000. When he went to the insurance company for payment, it attempted to assert the application of the sub-limit, arguing that it had already spent more than $50,000 defending the general contractor and therefore owed the technician nothing. The trial court sided with the insurance company in its interpretation of the policy’s application.

The case went up on appeal, and, this time, the technician won. The issue was one of following the rules, which the defense had failed to do. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213(i) is a procedural rule that obliges parties to a lawsuit to “supplement or amend any prior answer or response whenever new or additional information subsequently becomes known to that party.” In this case, the defense had stated that the policy limit was $1 million. They eventually came to know that the limit that applied to the technician’s case was $50,000. The rule says the defense had a duty to file additional papers to convey that information to the court and to the technician, but they never did so.

When a defendant commits this kind of error, the negative impact for it and the potential benefit for the plaintiff can be substantial. This is because allowing a party to violate this rule “encourages tactical gamesmanship” and reeks of sandbagging, according to the court. Essentially, what the insurer tried to do in this case was to try to create “a ‘heads I win, tails I win’ outcome.”

So what did this failure mean for the technician? It meant that the insurer was legally barred from asserting the application of the $50,000 sub-limit. Without that sub-limit, the general policy limit of $1 million was what applied, and the technician was entitled to collect the full amount of his judgment from the insurer. Since the technician and his legal team were able to hold the defense accountable for not following the rules, he was able to secure a more favorable outcome.

Suffering an injury while working at a construction site often means dealing with an insurance company. In all likelihood, this insurance company will be very sophisticated with ample resources. You need skilled legal counsel on your side to ensure that your interests are fully protected. The hardworking Chicago construction accident attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck have the experience and determination you need for your personal injury case. For a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.