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State Farm v. Campbell, Part 1

Since I’ve spent the last couple weeks (here and here) talking in generalities about punitive damages, I thought I’d talk specifically about State Farm v. Campbell today.

Campbell started off with a tragic, yet common, car wreck. Campbell was driving his car in Utah and decided to pass 6 vehicles on a two-lane highway. Todd Ospital was driving his car in the opposite direction. When he saw Campbell in his lane of traffic, Ospital swerved onto the shoulder of the road to avoid a head-on collision. Unfortunately, Ospital lost control of his car and his car crashed into a vehicle driven by Robert Slusher.

Ospital was killed. Slusher was permanently disabled. Campbell, and his wife who was riding with him, walked away from the wreck.

So … who do you think was at-fault for the wreck? Right. You, me, everyone, all believe that the guy passing 6 cars on a 2-lane highway – Campbell – was the at-fault driver.

After some period of time, Ospital’s estate and Slusher both filed claims against Campbell’s auto insurance. Campbell’s insurance company was State Farm.

Despite the fall-off-a-log easy liability determination, State Farm decided to deny that Campbell was at-fault for the wreck. In fact, State Farm contested liability so fervently and for so long that it forced the case all the way to trial. In doing so, it refused to settle with Slusher and Ospital’s estate for policy limits: a paltry $50,000 combined for the two injured parties.

Along the way, State Farm – Campbell’s own insurance company – assured the Campbells that “their assets were safe, that they had no liability for the accident, that State Farm would represent their interests,” and that they did not need to hire their own attorneys to ensure, among other things, that their assets were, in fact, safe.

Unsurprisingly, at trial the jury found Campbell was 100% at-fault for the wreck. The jury returned a verdict of $185,849. State Farm paid the insurance policy limits of $50,000 and then refused to pay the excess liability of $135,849. Instead, despite its previous promise to the Campbells that it would look of for them, it told them that they were responsible to pay the remaining $135k and helpfully suggested:

“You may want to put for sale signs on your property to get things moving.”

About the Author

Rebecca RutzRebecca “Becky” Henning-Rutz graduated from the University of Montana with her law degree in 2006 and has been working in Kalispell ever since. Becky has been working as an associate for Henning, Keedy & Lee since 2007.View all posts by Rebecca Rutz →

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