Appeals court affirms $11.6M boating verdict
By laying the groundwork for a bad faith claim during pretrial negotiations, a pair of attorneys were able to secure a more than $11.6 million award for a doctor who was injured in a boating accident that left him unable to work.
Charles R. Hardee of Hardee & Hardee in Greenville and Steve L. Weeks of Wheatly, Wheatly, Weeks & Lupton in Beaufort said they had offered on several occasions before trial to settle the case for the defendant’s liability insurance policy limit of $3.5 million.
They also sent letters to the defendant detailing their client’s injuries and damages, asserting that if the case went to trial, they anticipated the verdict would exceed the policy limits. If that happened, they said they would seek full recovery.
Meanwhile, the defense refused to budge after offering the plaintiff $265,000. “I always thought they were crazy not to pay the policy limits on this case,” Weeks said.
Hardee added, “This was a clear negligence claim with a significant injury and we thought we had clear and convincing proof of the total disability of our client. We just never clearly understood their [the defense’s] thinking on this.”
Defense attorneys Lawson Johnston and John Pion of Pion, Johnston, Nerone, Girman, Clements & Smith in Pittsburgh did not respond to an interview request.
The plaintiff, Dr. Benjamin G. Hines Jr., accused defendant Triad Marine Center of negligently operating a 22-foot boat that he was interested in purchasing in 2006. During a test run outside the Beaufort Inlet, the boat hit rough waters and the captain allegedly failed to slow the vessel or warn the passengers to brace themselves. Hines was thrown into the air and landed back inside the boat, severely fracturing his left ankle.
The accident left Hines with chronic pain and swelling that requires him to take pain medication, which has left him unable to work as a urologist, according to Weeks. “You don’t want a surgeon performing surgery on you while under the influence of Percocet,” he said.
A bench trial in U.S. District Court in Wake County resulted in a verdict of $10,397,291, plus interest. Hines’ lost income accounted for the bulk of his damages.
Following the verdict, the defendant’s insurer, Sentry Insurance, posted a $11,675,000 appeal bond with the court’s approval to stay execution of the judgment and keep Hines from going after the defendant’s assets.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s verdict in July 2012, and Sentry was required to pay the full judgment to Hines.
Case name: Hines v. Triad Marine Center, Inc., et al.
Case number: 4:09-CV-003-BR
Court: U.S. District Court in Wake County
Name of judge: W. Earl Britt
Date of verdict: Jan. 3, 2011
Amount: $11,675,000 (after interest)
Highest offer: $265,000
Attorneys for plaintiff: Charles Hardee (Greenville) and Steve Weeks (Beaufort)
Attorneys for defendant: Lawson Johnston and John Pion (Pittsburgh)
Has the plaintiff been successful in collecting the judgment? Yes