Lawyer Accuses Travelers of Misleading Him About Insurance Policy

May 23, 2016

The former lawyer for a car crash victim accused an auto insurance company of hiding a $1 million policy that could have paid for his client’s medical bills during testimony in court Thursday.

Attorney Jeff Cole testified in federal court in Sioux Falls in the case against Charter Oak Fire Insurance, the Argus Leader reported. But during his testimony, the defense team for the insurer accused Cole of waiting more than two years to ask whether his client qualified for coverage under the policy.

“You just chose not to do it – isn’t that right?” asked Mike Cashman, the attorney for Travelers Insurance Co., which owns Charter Oak.

“That’s not how I would put it,” Cole responded. He represented the victim, Laura Dziadek, after she suffered serious injuries when she was a passenger in the car involved in the September 2008 crash. He represented Dziadek until Travelers Insurance subpoenaed him. He was a witness Thursday.

The car involved in the crash had been loaned to a friend of Dziadek, and its insurance policy covered uninsured and under-insured motorists. But Dziadek is arguing that Travelers Insurance intentionally tried to hide the policy and is offering a letter that an insurance adjuster sent to Cole as proof.

A resolution in favor of Dziadek could have consequences beyond her case. If her attorneys prove that one of the largest insurance companies in the nation intentionally hid benefits, lawsuits from others could follow.

In February 2009, Cole received the letter indicating that the policy would not cover Dziadek. The insurance company, however, maintains the letter only referred to liability insurance and not the underinsured policy.

The newspaper reported Cole spent two years looking for other legal options for Dziadek, and as the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit neared, he decided to take another look at the policy. An attorney asked for the complete policy from the insurer, which then ended up paying the victim more than $900,000.

The attorneys for Travelers Insurance on Thursday also raised the possibility that the adjuster who sent the letter made a mistake. But Cole didn’t buy that argument.

“I think it was a 0 percent chance that it was a mistake,” Cole said.

Secrecy has surrounded parts of the case after U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange agreed to some of the insurer’s requests. In 2012, Lange allowed Travelers Insurance to file documents under seal, and when some of the information that’s off-limits to the public has been disclosed during the proceedings, Lange has closed his courtroom to anyone not affiliated with the case.

At the request of Travelers Insurance, Lange on Tuesday closed his Sioux Falls courtroom just Dziadek’s lawyers were readying to show video of depositions on how the insurer evaluates and compensates employees.

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