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Plaintiff Attorneys Recover $10.1M, Allege Defense Misled About Policy Limit


Lowball Settlement ‘Didn’t Look Right’: Plaintiff  Attorneys Recover $10.1M, Allege Defense Misled  About Policy Limit 

“I told [my co counsel], either this company is underinsured or they’re not being truthful  about how much coverage there is,” plaintiff attorney Matt Cook said. 

Alex Anteau 

What You Need to Know 

  • When a plaintiff was hit by a truck, she began to seek coverage from the truck’s insurer. 
  • However, her attorney said he thought the policy limit the insurer gave them was suspiciously low for the size of the company. 
  • Eventually the plaintiffs uncovered a $10 million umbrella policy and filed for sanctions, alleging the defendant misled them about coverage. 

A plaintiffs team led by Matt Cook, Joshua Bearden and Ruben Cruz recently secured  a $10.1 million settlement for a client whose leg was severely injured when she was  hit by a truck. But there’s a catch. According to the plaintiffs, the defendant,  originally represented by Hall Booth Smith, misrepresented the amount of  insurance coverage available, insisting for nearly a year that the policy only covered  $1 million, according to a motion for sanctions the plaintiffs filed in March.

The plaintiffs said they don’t know who exactly was responsible for concealing the  information—the insurer, the adjusters, the attorneys or the defendants—”But  clearly someone made the deliberate and intentional decision to falsely  represent coverage.” 

They pursued sanctions and a hearing to determine who was  responsible for the coverup. Shortly after they filed the  motion, though, Hall Booth Smith withdrew representation.  

As a result, the hearing never happened. The firm was  replaced by Dave Dial and Brannon Arnold of Weinberg  Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial who settled the case for the  $10.1 million, just short of a total $11 million policy limit.  

“They’re very professional, get to the point and don’t miss the forest for the trees,” Cook said. 

However, despite a clean resolution, the plaintiffs argue  

damage was already done. “The problem is, we don’t know how common this is,  and once the fraud is consummated, people usually never do find out that it  happened, because you settle the case, the litigation is over, and you move on,”  Cook, said. “And the people who that injures are the people who are hurt the  worst.” 

Defendant Jeremy Burkett was driving a vehicle for IRG Ventures when he ran over  plaintiff Ana Prieto, severely injuring her leg. According to the plaintiff’s account of  the incident, Prieto, who walked to work daily, emerged from the incident  with more than $580,000 in medical bills, unable to drive herself and “likely will  never be able to walk normally again.” 

Preto originally retained Cruz as counsel and began the process of recovering from  IRG Ventures’ insurer. 

Ruben Cruz of Cruz & Associates 

“The vast majority of my clients are Hispanic, and I’ve  noticed there is a tendency for insurance companies and  defense firms to lowball Hispanic cases. They try to take  advantage of them because they think they’re going to settle  for less … And that’s something I’m always very vigilant  about and I’m always suspicious about whether we have all  the coverage that’s really out there,” Cruz said, recounting  that when he first saw the company only had $1 million in  policy limits “it didn’t look right” and he enlisted Cook’s firm  in the case. 

“I told [Cruz], either this company is underinsured or they’re not being truthful  about how much coverage there is,” Cook said. “If you have assets, you have  insurance…People who have nothing to lose and no wealth to protect get  minimum coverage because if there’s a $10 million verdict against them, they  don’t have anything to lose and there’s nothing we can do about it.” 

According to Cook, as the plaintiffs started making further inquiries into the  available policy limits, the defense counsel began asking them if they would send a  $1 million policy demand. 

From there, Bearden said the case moved to discovery and the plaintiffs encountered difficulties setting deposition dates for the company president and office manager. The process was delayed for months, and according to Bearden, once he told the defense the plaintiffs would have to unilaterally notice the depositions, one of the defense attorneys called him to say she was recently made aware of an excess policy. 

“Our reaction was number one, thank goodness we didn’t  send a demand for a million dollars like they asked,” Cook said. “Number two, what went through my mind is how many times has this happened to people who were seriously injured and really in need of insurance  coverage that was bought and paid for, but had been lied to? That’s why we filed  a motion for sanctions.” 

Several of the Hall Booth Smith attorneys who originally represented the defendant  are no longer with the firm. Neither the attorneys who withdrew from the case nor  Arnold and Dial responded to request for comment. 

The case is Prieto v. Burkett, No. 23-C-06917-S1, in the State Court of Gwinnett  County.