A $10.5 million settlement was reached last week in the aftermath of a 2017 landmark trial that involved one of Hall County’s largest civil jury verdicts – and a national insurance company that initially refused to pay.
The case centered on a June 2013 accident in the parking lot of Walmart on Shallowford Road in Gainesville. Amy and James Dean and their daughter, who was 12 at the time, were struck by a truck driven by Ronald Patterson.
“This case is a testament to the patience and perseverance of a family and their team of attorneys who stood by them in the face of a national insurance company’s monumental resistance,” attorney Mark Alexander of Stewart Melvin & Frost in Gainesville, said.
In 2017, a Hall County State Court jury awarded $11.5 million in a personal injury lawsuit to the family, who had filed a civil suit against Patterson.
Following the verdict, Patterson’s insurance company, Columbia National Insurance, denied coverage and the family sued in U.S. District Court in Gainesville to get the company to pay. The case was scheduled to go to trial in February, but Columbia agreed to the $10.5 million settlement just prior to a pretrial conference, Alexander said.
The legal team included Alexander; co-counsel Dan Sammons, who is a local practitioner in the firm of Sammons & Henneke; and Rich Dolder, a bad-faith insurance specialist with Slappey & Sadd, an Atlanta law firm.
In the initial lawsuit against the Patterson, Columbia failed to provide him with insurance coverage or legal representation, and the company refused all efforts to settle the case. After the jury’s historic multimillion-dollar judgement, the family aggressively pursued collection in Gainesville’s federal court.
In September, a federal court ruled that the company vehicle and driver should have been covered under Columbia’s $4 million business insurance policy and that Columbia had breached its duty to defend the driver.
The Dunn’s legal team argued that Columbia should cover the verdict amount in excess of Columbia's $4 million insurance policy limit based on its refusal to settle the case on behalf of the driver and for failing to provide him with a lawyer.
“While this settlement was a victory for our legal team,” Sammons said, “we are happiest for our clients, the victims in this case. They have come to the end of a very long and painful journey.”