We helped a shell-shocked family recover the maximum insurance settlement available for the wrongful death of a remarkable wife and mother.
Ann lived a life of uncommon Christian devotion to her Lord, her family, and her profession as a nurse. She left behind Larry, her husband of 43 years, plus their daughter and her husband—who’d just given them their first grandchild that past year—and a son who serves the grieving as a funeral director.
What Took Her Away
On a clear, bright summer morning around 11 a.m., Ann drove her mother into the North Carolina hills for their annual trip to visit quilt shops. Sadly, they encountered the at-fault driver, who inexcusably crossed over a paved median at 70 mph (15 mph over the speed limit) to drive on the wrong side of the road. She slammed headfirst into Ann.
A witness to the crash described the at-fault driver as swerving over all the road.
The devastating impact flung Ann’s car into the lane next to her, where it skidded sideways to rest across US 23/Highway 441. It propelled the at-fault driver 124 feet the wrong way down Highway 441.
Why the Family Came to Us
These are capable people. Larry retired as a landscaper after two decades in sales and management. Their daughter is a physical therapy assistant, and her husband is an engineer. Their son lives out of town, but gave all the help and advice he could from a distance.
At first, the family tried to handle it alone, but found it overwhelming to respond to insurance company demands for information. They also couldn’t make sense of the maze of insurance coverage to figure out what was available to them. And they had no idea how to convince the insurance company to settle.
In short, they were devastated, confused, and on the verge of reeling. They needed someone to right their ship and guide them through uncharted waters so they could deal with their grief, pick up the pieces, and move on with life.
That’s where we came in: to solve their legal problem while restoring their peace of mind.
How We Helped
We immediately began gathering evidence from various sources:
- Insurance policies. We analyzed Ann and Larry’s policy to determine their underinsurance coverage, which could help pay a settlement. We determined they had an additional $300,000 in coverage, which we stacked from three $100,000 policies. Interestingly, because the crash was in North Carolina, we took the extra precaution of informing their insurance company we deemed South Carolina insurance law to apply since Ann and Larry live here. The insurance company agreed with us. Why did we do this? From a prior case we handled in North Carolina, we’d discovered North Carolina stacking laws are unfavorable to victims.
- Wreck evidence. We downloaded news reports from the web. We also acquired the official traffic report of the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
- Medical records. We needed these to evaluate Ann’s survival case, which give settlement rights for conscious pain and suffering plus medical bills of fatal accident victims.
- Tax returns. We needed these to compute Ann’s lifetime lost wages as an element of the settlement.
- Interviews with family about Ann’s loss. For us and the family, this was the toughest, most moving, and inspiring part. To get the full value of the settlement, we had to present a deep, wide panorama of who Ann was and the profound impact her loss inflicted on her family.
I spent two hours with Larry alone to canvass the magic of their marriage and the depth of their lifelong adoration for each other. We chronicled their lives from the moment they met (which Larry recalls vividly), to how they still enjoyed just spending time together (but especially UNC Tar Heel sports) and their shared passion in their greatest achievement—their children. We also discussed their newfound exhilaration over their first grandchild. An accomplished seamstress and quilter, Ann had begun their grandchild’s baptismal gown just before she passed.
We discussed how Ann was a giver. Her obituary recalls her “baking endless goods for the community with nearly legendary status.” Larry affirms that’s not an overstatement. For 25 to 30 years, he repeatedly witnessed her bake hundreds of dozens of her frosted sugar cookies during the Christmas and Valentine’s Day seasons. Ann also served as a Sacristin and Eucharistic Minister at her church. Touchingly, she made it a personal mission to cross-stitch tiny blankets and hats for newborn infants in Regional’s nursery, even for those who passed away.
We talked about hard things, too—like the awful day she died, and how he endures her penetrating absence.
We Send a Settlement Demand to the Insurance Company
Once we compiled the evidence, we organized and presented it in a “demand letter” to the insurance company. In an extensively detailed letter—including attachments—we presented our case. We asked for all the coverage from the at-fault driver’s insurance company and Ann’s.
We got it.
But we still weren’t done.
Court Approval Hearing
In South Carolina, all wrongful death settlements require a hearing to gain a judge’s approval over the settlement before it can be paid. This required us to present a convincing case to him to accept the settlement. The insurance companies made sure to have lawyers there to protect their interest.
After the hearing, we distributed settlements to the beneficiaries as required by South Carolina law and the court order. As the surviving spouse, Larry got half, while the children got the other half split between them.
Helping a Family Move On
Many, many times, Larry told me “I just don’t know how I could to this without you.” Handling a wrongful death case for a non-lawyer who’s also grieving the victim’s loss really is too much for most folks. It’s bad enough you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re a “foreign man in a foreign land.” What’s worse is, you have to keep reliving the death over and over again. When we took over, we took that burden off Larry and his family.
In my years helping families like Larry’s, I have realized that may be the most important thing a lawyer can do: to help capable people solve problems they can’t solve alone. It’s my job to enlighten and empower folks to make the best possible decisions, even in the most agonizing cases. I’m proud and grateful I could do that for Larry and his family, plus gain entry into the life of an incredible woman and equally incredible family she leaves to benefit the rest of us and carry on her legacy.