12-0 Defense Win for Insurance Agent

Marc Zimet obtained a defense verdict in a three-day jury trial in Ventura, California on a claim for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and financial elder abuse by the father-in-law and former insurance client of the agent. Specifically, plaintiff claimed that: 1) the agent’s alleged failure to notify him that his automobile insurance policy was going to lapse for non-payment and the agent’s inability to quote him a lower premium after his driver’s license had been suspended was negligent; 2) that the language contained in an e-mail sent to plaintiff by the agent after plaintiff complained to the agent’s regional supervisors and the agent’s subsequent failure to express regrets for such e-mail thereafter was intended to and did inflict severe emotional distress upon plaintiff; and 3)  the agent’s advice to plaintiff to transfer title to his car into the agent’s name while his driver’s license was suspended was done by using undue influence and with an intent to defraud plaintiff.

Although the purpose for advising plaintiff to transfer title to his car into the agent’s name was disputed (plaintiff contended it was to defraud his creditors, while the agent contended it was to ensure plaintiff could maintain insurance for his car while his license was suspended), it was undisputed that plaintiff maintained the keys and car for the short two month period before the agent transferred title to the car back into plaintiff’s name. While there was no question that plaintiff’s license had been suspended, that the agent sent him an email containing profanity, and that the plaintiff transferred title to his car into the agent’s name for two months, it was speculative as to whether the agent breached any duty owed to plaintiff, intended the email to cause plaintiff to suffer severe emotional distress, or advised him to transfer title to his car into the agent’s name for a wrongful purpose.

Plaintiff demanded $750,000 to settle. After convincing the court to dismiss the negligence action by way of motion for nonsuit, we defensed the two remaining causes of action with a 12-0 jury verdict. While winning at trial is often viewed as counsel’s inability to resolve a claim short of trial, this one was simply not viewed reasonably by plaintiff’s counsel. Plaintiff’s counsel refused to discuss settlement on reasonable terms and put far too much hope in his belief that a jury would be swayed by plaintiff’s age and economic condition (plaintiff is 90 years old and in financial despair).

By focusing on the legal issues, we were able to convince the jury that no reasonable person could find that any of the agent’s actions were wrongful or caused plaintiff any harm. By persuading the jury that it could not find liability simply as a way to “help” plaintiff, we obtained a favorable result for our client.