Woman Who Took Insurance Case to Supreme Court Wins Settlement

October 28, 2005

Farmers Insurance has paid $760,000 to a 62-year-old Irish woman who successfully argued her claim before the state Supreme Court, despite having no college degree or legal training.

Mary Mulcahy, of Seattle, was injured in a car accident in British Columbia in 1994, suffering a broken sternum as well as pain and medical problems that persist to this day. The accident was determined to be the fault of the other driver, who pulled out in front of her.

Under Canadian law, British Columbia residents who are in accidents that are not their fault are entitled to coverage of up to $150,000 Canadian from their own insurer. Many American companies, including Farmers, have made deals to have their policies recognized under that law.

The result is that if a Farmers customer from the United States is driving in British Columbia and causes an accident, up to $150,000 due to the victim will be paid not by Farmers, but by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. In exchange, Farmers agreed to pay its U.S. customers up to $150,000 if they are in an accident caused by a British Columbia driver.

Though Farmers paid Mulcahy $10,000 in personal-injury protection, it spent years fighting her claim to the $150,000 Canadian — more than $100,000 U.S. — that it owed her.

Mulcahy, a native of Ireland’s County Cork, could not find a lawyer to take her case, so she did it herself — researching the relevant legal issues and bringing her court filings to a free legal clinic for editing.

Eventually, the King County Bar Association asked her to stop showing up. She was taking up too much of the clinic’s time, she said.

She lost her home because her injuries prevented her from working, and sometimes slept in her car before finding transitional housing.

Two lower courts ruled against her, but last year, the state Supreme Court unanimously reversed those decisions and sent the case back to King County Superior Court to determine how much she should receive.

Farmers finally agreed to settle the case for $760,000. About $160,000 of that will go to Seattle attorney Mike Withey, who helped her win the settlement.

“I’m glad it’s over,” Mulcahy said.

She has about $450,000 left after paying off the debt she ran up during her legal odyssey. She remains bitter at Farmers, which recently was criticized for refusing to pay Ethel Adams, a 60-year-old Everett woman who was injured in March in an accident that was not her fault. In the face of a mounting public outcry, the company agreed to pay Adams’ claim.

“They shouldn’t even have a license to sell insurance,” Mulcahy said. “I don’t know how they sleep at night.”

Farmers spokeswoman Mary Flynn declined to comment on Mulcahy’s case beyond saying the company was pleased that the sides had come to an agreement.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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