Before initiating any kind of personal injury lawsuit, it is important to gather all of the relevant facts and make sure that you are consistent and truthful in any pretrial statements you make, whether to your own attorney or to the court. Inconsistencies, even if they are honest misunderstandings or lapses in memory, can significantly harm your case. In some circumstances they can even prove fatal to a claim.
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Corp. v. Fabrizio
You especially do not want to get caught in an inconsistency when dealing with an insurance company. A recent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals offers a useful illustration of why not. This ongoing lawsuit started with a 2013 car accident between the plaintiff and another driver. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver.
She also served the lawsuit on her father’s auto insurance company, the defendant in this action. The father held a series of policies providing a total of $175,000 in uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM) coverage. It is common practice for a personal injury plaintiff to serve a UM carrier when she believes the defendant-driver has insufficient insurance or financial resources to pay the full amount of any judgment.
Here, the other driver settled with the plaintiff out of court, presumably for the maximum coverage provided by his own insurance policy. This left the plaintiff’s UM claim against the insurance company for the balance of her alleged damages. The plaintiff maintained that she was covered by these policies as a “resident relative” of the insured–her father–but the insurer disputed this, largely based on the plaintiff’s own statements during pretrial discovery.
In response to initial written interrogatories (questions), the plaintiff said she lived with her three children at the time of the accident. In a subsequent deposition a few months later, she confirmed that her father was not living with her at the time, but that he lived in a house across the street. A few months after that, the plaintiff submitted a signed affidavit insisting her father had lived in her house since October 2013–two months before her car accident. The insurance company then demanded a second deposition, at which time the plaintiff reiterated that her father was living with her in 2013.
The plaintiff then moved for summary judgment, asking the trial judge to decide the question of her father’s residency and therefore her coverage under the policy without submitting the question to a jury. The judge agreed and granted the plaintiff summary judgment. The insurance company appealed.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holding summary judgment was not appropriate under these circumstances. Typically a court will not grant summary judgment when there is a legitimate factual dispute. In this case, such a dispute exists because of the plaintiff’s inconsistent testimony. Even if the trial judge believed the plaintiff’s latter statements regarding her father’s residency was correct, that “does not permit her to effectively ‘erase’ her own prior contradictory testimony and prevail on her own motion for summary judgment.” Ultimately, it must be left to a jury to decide whether or not the plaintiff is telling the truth.