Articles Posted in Firm News

Congratulations to my partner Mike Moody, and his co-counsel Dennis Mestas, for their excellent work in the Ennen v. Integon Insurance case. The Alaska Supreme Court recently held in Ennen v. Integon Insurance Corp., Opinion No. 6637 (1/20/12 Alaska), that insurance companies owe a duty of good faith and fair dealing to all their insureds, not just to the individual or the business which happens to be listed as the named insured on the policy. This is a very important decision. Insurance companies are liable for damages in tort when they breach their duty of good faith and fair dealing by, for example, hiding coverages from the insured, unreasonably low-balling the value of a claim, or unreasonably delaying or denying payment of a valid claim. This cause of action is called an insurance bad faith claim. It allows the insured to recover not just what the insurance company should have paid to begin with (before years of litigation finally made them do it), but also the additional damages the insured suffered in the meantime by not having the insurance policy benefits they should have promptly received from the insurance company. If the insurance company’s improper conduct was reckless or intentional, the insurance company may also be liable for punitive damages.

In two earlier blog posts, we discussed how pervasive this type of improper claims handling is. The first post discussed the results of an 18-month investigation by CNN which concluded that many insurance companies engaged in systematic bad faith claims handling. The second post discussed an American Association for Justice Report which showed that such hardball claims tactics had gone hand-in-hand with record industry profits.

The Ennen v. Integon Indemnity decision is extremely important in light of these problems because many insurance companies (including Integon and Allstate) have taken the position that they owe no duty of good faith and fair dealing to their insureds who are not the named policy holder. A motor vehicle insurance policy typically protects many types of insureds who are not the named insured on the policy. For example, permissive drivers are covered under the liability coverage for any accidents they cause and medical payments coverage if they are injured. If they are injured by the negligence of another driver, they may be entitled to uninsured or underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. The policyholder’s spouse and other resident relatives of the named insured and guest passengers are expressly included as insureds for UM/UIM coverage. If Integon’s (and Allstate’s) position had been accepted by the Alaska Supreme Court, they would have been insulated from bad faith claims by any of these insureds. Insurers in Alaska could have hidden policy benefits from these types of insureds; delayed their claims for years; or denied their claims entirely for no valid reason and faced no penalty whatsoever. If the insurance company got caught, it would only have to pay what it should have paid to being with.

Alaska Personal Injury Law Group member Neil O’Donnell has recently been selected for inclusion in 2011 Alaska Super Lawyers. Super Lawyers advises that “only five percent of the attorneys in the state are named to the list” and that selection is based on “peer recognition and professional achievement.” Alaska Personal Injury Law Group members Neil O’Donnell, Mike Moody and Richard Vollertsen have all been selected for inclusion in both Alaska Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America. They have all also received the highest “A-V” ranking in Martindale-Hubbell, the oldest and best known lawyer ranking service. The Alaska Personal Injury Law Group focuses its efforts on serious personal injury, wrongful death and insurance bad faith cases. Mr. O’Donnell and other attorneys at the firm also handle claims involving the sale of unsuitable or unregistered securities, financial fraud, and other improper business practices.

Alaska Personal Injury Law Group member Neil O’Donnell has recently been selected for inclusion in 2011 Alaska Super Lawyers. Super Lawyers advises that “only five percent of the attorneys in the state are named to the list” and that selection is based on “peer recognition and professional achievement.” Alaska Personal Injury Law Group members Neil O’Donnell, Mike Moody and Richard Vollertsen have all been selected for inclusion in both Alaska Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America. They have all also received the highest “A-V” ranking in Martindale-Hubbell, the oldest and best known lawyer ranking service. The Alaska Personal Injury Law Group focuses its efforts on serious personal injury, wrongful death and insurance bad faith cases. Mr. O’Donnell and other attorneys at the firm also handle claims involving the sale of unsuitable or unregistered securities, financial fraud, and other improper business practices.

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Alaska Personal Injury Law Group attorney Neil O’Donnell recently successfully represented Luis Lopez ā€“ a 10-year Army service member ā€“ in his legal quest to become a U.S. citizen. Mr. Lopez was brought to the United States from Mexico by his parents as an eight-year-old child. After attending school in California, Mr. Lopez enlisted in the Army with a false birth abstract. He subsequently served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and received numerous awards and medals. After he disclosed and attempted to remedy his illegal immigration status, the Army began discharge proceedings against him and an Army personnel manager characterized his military service for the purpose of his immigration application as “not honorable” because of the circumstances of his original enlistment. Mr. Lopez’s commanding officer, however, “strongly recommended that SSG Lopez [be] awarded United States Citizenship for his commitment and service to the United States of America.” Mr. Lopez’s naturalization application was ultimately approved and Mr. Lopez took the oath of citizenship on February 9, 2011. Mr. Lopez was represented on a pro bono basis by Mr. O’Donnell. The Wall Street Journal published an article about Mr. Lopez’s legal journey on February 10, 2011: “Soldier Finds Minefield on Road to Citizenship” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704570104576124091336851306.html

Michael Moody, Richard E. Vollertsen, and Neil O’Donnell of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group have been selected for inclusion in the “Best Lawyers In America” 2011 publication. Selection to the “Best Lawyers In America” listing is based on exhaustive and rigorous peer-review evaluations by the top attorneys in the country. Mr. Moody was named a “Best Lawyer” in two different categories–personal injury litigation and products liability litigation. He has now been selected as a “Best Lawyer in America” every year for 19 years. Richard E. Vollertsen is now in a distinguished group of attorneys listed in the publication for over 10 years. Neil O’Donnell has been listed in the publication for the past five years.

These lawyers have also all received “AV” ratings from Martindale Hubbell, the highest national rating for legal ability and ethics. They have also been selected for similar national rankings, as described here,here, and here. Their law firm has also been listed in the Best Lawyers Law Firm rankings as #1 in the Products Liability category and by Benchmark: Litigation as one of the top 5 law firms in Alaska in its “highly recommended” listing, as seen here.

The Alaska Supreme Court recently issued a decision with important practical implications for individuals with personal injury claims in Alaska. In a case handled by Alaska Personal Injury Group attorney Neil O’Donnell, the Court ruled that a negligent driver (who was insured by State Farm) had to pay 75% of the plaintiff’s attorney fees for not accepting plaintiff’s earlier reasonable settlement offer. Yaple v. Okagawa, Opinion No. 6494 (July 16, 2010). Under Alaska Civil Rule 68, if a party makes a settlement offer and beats that offer by 5% or more at trial, the other party has to pay up to 75% of the offering party’s attorney fees. The issue before the Alaska Supreme Court was how to calculate this attorney fee award for a prevailing plaintiff who hired his attorney on a percentage contingency fee basis.

Seventy five percent (75%) of a contingency fee may be much smaller than 75% of the attorney fees calculated on an hourly basis (i.e., the hours worked by the attorney multiplied by the attorney’s normal hourly billing rate). Plaintiffs in Alaska with modest claims previously faced the risk of having to pay a large attorney fee award to the defendant if they did not “beat” the defendant’s offer of judgment while only receiving a modest attorney fee award if they instead prevailed. In the case handled by the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that Rule 68 attorney fee awards could be calculated for both defendants and plaintiffs on an hourly basis even if the plaintiff hired his attorney under a percentage contingency fee. This ruling affirmed an attorney fee award to Mr. O’Donnell’s client that State Farm had argued was far too large.

The bottom line is that this decision substantially increases the incentives for insurance companies to accept reasonable settlement offers (instead of delaying, litigating, and hoping that claimants will eventually settle for less), at least when injured individuals are represented by competent counsel and the insurance company knows that their attorney is willing to go to trial.

Two attorneys with the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group, W. Michael Moody and Richard E. Vollertsen, were selected to be listed in Alaska Super Lawyers 2009, a publication of Thomson Reuters.

Mr. Moody received his law degree from the University of Arizona in 1972 where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review and received the academic award of Order of the Coif. He served as a law clerk to Judges Thomas Stewart and Victor Carlson in Juneau before moving to Anchorage. Mr. Moody has practiced law in Alaska since 1975 specializing in representing those injured by negligence or defective products, and claims against insurance companies for fraud and bad faith conduct against their policyholders.

Mr. Vollertsen was also selected as an Alaska Super Lawyer. Mr. Vollertsen has been a member of the Atkinson, Conway & Gagnon law firm since 1982. His practice includes complex litigation matters primarily involving products liability, wrongful death, and personal injury. He served as Law Clerk to Chief Justice Edmund Burke of the Alaska Supreme Court. Mr. Vollertsen was also editor-in-chief of University of San Francisco Law Review, 1980-81, and contributing editor to Alaska Court Review, 1983-2000. Mr. Vollertsen was also named by Best Lawyers in America as Alaska’s “Personal Injury Lawyer of the Year” for 2009.

Litigation by the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group has been cited in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics for its role in aiding the FDA in its decision to finally rule that ephedra products were adulterated under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The litigation, Talbert v. E’ola Products, Inc., 3AN-97-4046, was handled by Richard E. Vollertsen and arose out of stroke injuries suffered by a young woman using an ephedra weight loss product that had also been spiked with ephedrine hydrochloride.

Source:

“Clinical Pharmacology and Dietary Supplements: An Evolving Relationship,” Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Vol. 87, No. 2, Feb. 2010.

Michael Moody of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group has been selected for inclusion in the “Best Lawyers In America” 2010 publication. He was named a “Best Lawyer” in two different categories–personal injury litigation and products liability litigation. He has now been selected as a “Best Lawyer in America” every year for 18 years. Selection to the “Best Lawyers In America” listing is based on exhaustive and rigorous peer-review evaluations by the top attorneys in the country.

Litigation Counsel of America has selected Michael Moody of the Personal Injury Law Group to be a Fellow. Litigation Counsel of America is a trial lawyer honorary society composed of less than one-half of one percent of American lawyers. Fellowship is highly selective and by invitation only. Fellows are selected based upon effectiveness and accomplishment in litigation, both at the trial and appellate levels, and superior ethical reputation.

Richard E. Vollertsen of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group has been selected for inclusion in the “Best Lawyers In America” 2010 publication. He is now in a distinguished group of attorneys listed in the publication for over 10 years. Selection to the “Best Lawyers In America” listing is based on exhaustive and rigorous peer-review evaluations by the top attorneys in the country.