Yesterday New York’s Appellate Division, Fourth Department handed one of our clients, a motorcycle accident victim, a great victory. Here’s the story: Our client was riding his motorcycle in a rural area of Ontario County when a farmer in a pickup truck failed to see him, failed to yield to him, and caused a car/motorcycle collision that ended up costing our client a leg and a life-time of excruciating pain.
The pickup truck was insured by an auto policy to the tune of $300,000, but that wasn’t nearly enough to cover the medical expenses, lost wages and permanent, unremitting pain and suffering. After a little hunting, we discovered that the farmer, in addition to the $300,000 auto insurance policy, had a $ 1 million farm insurance policy. Since the farmer was actually conducting farm business when the accident happened (had been checking on some crops and picking up a part for farm machinery) we figured the farm policy should be on the table.
Of course the insurance company disagreed. After all, insurance companies make their profit by disclaiming coverage whenever they can. Yes, I mean it; hanging their insured clients out to dry is how they grow their bottom line.
In this case, the insurance company’s main argument was that the insurance policy they had issued to the farmer covered only accidents caused by vehicles registered as “farm vehicles”, but the farmer’s pickup truck was not registered as a “farm vehicle” but rather as an “agricultural vehicle”. Say what? Don’t “farm vehicle” and “agricultural vehicle” mean the same thing? Hell no! Welcome to the hairsplitting world of insurance disclaimers!
So, since the insurance company wouldn’t pony up, we took a judgment against the poor farmer for the $1.3 Million, collected on his $300,000 auto policy, and went to Court to collect on the $1 million farm policy. The trial Court handed us a victor, the insurance company appealed (of course), and yesterday the appellate court out of Rochester — surprise, surprise — found no significant difference between a “farm vehicle” and an “agricultural vehicle” and thus affirmed our trial court victory.
So now they have to pay up. But there is frosting on this cake: During the years that the insurance company was refusing to pay, making us take a judgment against its insured, making us sue them for failure to pay on that judgment, and making us fight an appeal, 9% annual INTEREST WAS RUNNING on the $1 million judgment pursuant to New York State law. As a result, the insurance company, who could have settled for the $1 million policy limit early on, now owes our client the $1 million plus interest, which amounts to a whopping $1.4 million.
So we at Michaels & Smolak would like to thank the insurance company (which will remain unnamed) for having provided our severely injured client with an extra $400,000.