CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (LAWFUEL) — Corpus Christi attorney Bob Hilliard is announcing a $4.2 million verdict handed down today in favor of Corpus Christi’s popular San Luis Mexican Restaurant against the restaurant’s insurance company.
The jury in Judge Lisa Gonzales’ County Court at Law No. 2 in Nueces County found that Illinois-based Evanston Insurance Co. was grossly negligent in its failure to insure the restaurant and its owner, Maria Pineda, for a covered claim.
In July 2002, an off-duty employee slipped and fell while leaving the restaurant, severely injuring her arm. Mrs. Pineda previously had purchased a general liability policy from Evanston Insurance that she was told would provide coverage for anybody injured at the restaurant. Mrs. Pineda submitted the claim, but Evanston Insurance denied it citing an exclusion to coverage because the injured person was an employee.
The employee sued Mrs. Pineda and the restaurant in the 347th District Court in Nueces County. Evanston Insurance hired an attorney to represent Mrs. Pineda, but stopped paying the attorney after collecting evidence that supported its claim denial.
Mrs. Pineda sued Evanston Insurance in July 2007 for denying the insurance claim and failing to defend her at trial. During trial, a senior underwriter for Evanston Insurance’s parent company, Virginia-based Markel Corp. (NYSE: MKV), admitted that the company ignored clear evidence it could have covered Mrs. Pineda’s claim. The underwriter testified also that when considering disputed coverage for a claim, “ties go to the uninsured.”
The six-person jury agreed, awarding Mrs. Pineda and San Luis Mexican Restaurant $4.2 million, including $2.8 million in punitive damages.
Judge Gonzales previously granted a motion for summary judgment made by Mrs. Pineda’s attorney regarding the companies’ failure to defend her at trial.
“Mrs. Pineda is glad the jury decided to make these insurance companies hold up their end of the bargain,” says Mr. Hilliard of Hilliard & Muñoz, who represented Ms. Pineda and the restaurant. “Evanston had a chance to settle the underlying claim for $25,000, but chose instead to leave Mrs. Pineda twisting in the wind. We hope this verdict sends a message to other insurers that their primary responsibility is to look out for their policyholders.”