When the family of Darcia Dominguez sued Hillsborough County for her wrongful death, lawyers defending the county thought the plaintiffs had a solid case. Only one obstacle stopped them from offering a settlement -- Star Insurance Co., the County's insurer.
Now the County plans to sue Star for preventing settlement talks. County lawyers sought and received permission from county commissioners to file suit. A judge will now decide whether the insurer can prevent Hillsborough from reaching an out-of-court settlement with the victim's family.
Dominguez had completed her nursing shift at Brandon Regional Hospital on Feb. 6, 2010 when, on her way home, she crashed her 2005 Mini Cooper into a stationary Hillsborough Solid Waste Management Department truck on the Veterans Expressway. The truck's engine had died, so its driver had not been able to move it to the shoulder of the road. Its emergency blinkers were not functioning because the truck was out of power. As a substitute, the driver put warning cones behind it. Dominguez was critically injured in the wreck and died five days later.
In 2010, the Florida Highway Patrol ruled that Dominguez was at fault for not seeing the truck ahead. The evidence, they said, showed that she did not brake and drove over a traffic cone before hitting the truck.
Counsel representing the plaintiff's estate disagreed with this conclusion, arguing that the truck should have been on the grass median, not the roadway, and that its driver did not place the traffic cones properly. Testimony from county employees in pre-trial depositions may buttress this claim, though it has not been made public.
Lawyers representing Hillsborough County told county commissioners that they feared "a substantial verdict against the county" and wanted to settle. The County has a liability policy from Star with a limit of $2 million on liability. But Star refuses to agree to pay for any settlement and the county, though allowed to settle the case on its own, refuses to do so without the insurance proceeds.
The plaintiffs, who were willing to settle for $2 million, are moving forward with a wrongful death suit that could cost the county considerably more than $2 million. Hillsborough County attorneys, meanwhile, are moving forward with their efforts to get Star to cover its settlement offer to plaintiffs. And Star is refusing to give in.
Insurance coverage disputes are complex proceedings in which the interests of plaintiffs and defendants can sometimes be aligned against insurers.
Pekar Law is a full service Tampa, Florida property insurance law firm. If you have a wrongful death claim or another insurance issue that you would like to discuss, please call us at (813) 712-8762 for a free initial consultation.