Craig Schauermann, our senior partner, has been invited to speak to the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ-the State trial lawyers association) on Friday, October 5, 2012 at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle. His topic regards an issue of great importance to auto accident victims in this state-the duty of an auto insurance company that pays personal injury protection (PIP) benefits to an accident victim to also contribute its fair share towards that person's attorney fees and costs.
Craig and Scott Staples of our office handled a complex piece of litigation entitled Weismann v. Safeco Insurance Company, starting in the summer of 2005. After settling the lawsuit against the at-fault driver in May 2008, Craig and Scott filed a lawsuit against Safeco Insurance Company, the PIP (personal injury protection) carrier, on the theory that fairness and equity required that Safeco pay a share of Ms. Weismann's attorney's fees, which she incurred in the process of getting Safeco its PIP money back. The lawsuit was fought long and hard by both parties, even though it was over only about $3,000, because they knew that it would set a precedent that would affect a large class of accident victims who received PIP benefits.
Craig and Scott knew that they had the laboring oar, because there was already a court of appeals case in Washington, that said that the insurer in this of situation did NOT have to contribute to the injured parties fees and costs.
Craig and Scott first argued the case to the Clark County Superior Court, where the judge ruled that Safeco had to contribute towards Ms. Weismann's fees and costs. The court also awarded attorney fees to Ms. Weismann for having to bring the lawsuit against Safeco.
Safeco appealed to the Court of Appeals, Division II-the same division that had ruled against persons receiving PIP benefits a few years earlier. The court of appeals reversed the lower court judge's decision and ruled, as it had before, that insurers in this situation did not have to contribute to fees and costs that the injured party had incurred in collecting the money for the PIP carrier. Craig and Scott appealed to the Washington Supreme Court.
The Washington Supreme Court doesn't have to take cases that it doesn't want, or have time, to take. The Court takes less than 5% of civil cases that are appealed to it. Happily, the Court took the Weismann case and combined it with another case out of the Seattle area named Matysuk v State Farm that involved the same issues. The case was argued to the Supreme Court in May of 2011 and ultimately decided by the Court in February 2012. The Supreme Court agreed with the Clark County Superior Court (and us!) and overruled the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court determined that Ms. Weismann was entitled to her $3,000, and awarded her the fees and costs it took to win the appeal as well as interest.
Mr. Schauermann will be speaking so that other attorneys in Washington will be informed on these issues and will be able to assist their clients against other PIP insurers in the future.
For a complete copy of the court's opinion, click here.