An Ocean County jury returned a verdict of $1,455,000 to 22-year-old Nicole Kaufman of Brick, NJ. She was represented by Timothy Dinan and Andrew Fraser of Laddey, Clark and Ryan in Sparta, NJ.
Ms. Kaufman was rear-ended on November 16, 2015, by a vehicle driven by Kaitlyn Jenkins of Philadelphia and sustained permanent damage to her spine, which will require spinal surgery. After resolving their claim with Jenkins’ insurance company for her very limited policy, Nicole Kaufman made an application for underinsurance benefits through New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company (NJM). Nicole’s family had paid premiums for $500,000 in underinsurance coverage for more than 20 years, without a claim. The family thought they were covered, but when they applied for the benefits, NJM refused to acknowledge the claim. This was the first time anyone in the Kaufman family made a claim for benefits. NJM’s refusal forced Ms. Kaufman to bring legal action against it. The insurance company eventually recognized the claim, but only offered $50,000 as compensation for the permanent damage Nicole suffered to her spine when she was only 18 years old.
The case proceeded to trial on May 20, 2019, before the Honorable Craig L. Wellerson, P.J.Cv.P., the presiding judge of the Civil Division in Ocean County. Plaintiff’s treating orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Justin Kubeck of Ocean Orthopedic Associates in Toms River, and radiologist Dr. John Morgan of Teaneck testified as expert witnesses for the plaintiff. NJM was represented by Patricia Adams of Campbell Foley Delano & Adams, LLC in Asbury Park. Dr. John Tydings testified for NJM and essentially confirmed the findings of plaintiff’s doctors.
“The trial was necessitated by NJM’s failure to act in good faith and provide the benefits the family had paid for more than 20 years,” said Andrew Fraser. The 22-year-old suffered a large tear in her spinal disc, which resulted in permanent nerve damage. “The young woman has difficulty walking, sitting, standing and sleeping. Every aspect of her life has been impacted. She needs a major spinal surgery, but the surgeons are trying to wait as long as possible due to her young age,” added Timothy Dinan.
“Unfortunately, our current law in New Jersey rewards insurance companies by failing to hold them appropriately responsible for bad faith when evaluating claims like this,” said Fraser. “Instead of reasonably valuing Nicole’s case, NJM took a hardline approach. The insurance company was hoping Nicole would look at the risks and expense of going to trial and accept its low-ball offer. Fortunately, Nicole had the fortitude to stand up to NJM and wait for a verdict consistent with the permanent damage to her spine.” Fraser continued. “NJM should be ashamed for the disgusting way they treated the Kaufman family and what they put them through. The Kaufmans pay their premiums on time every month, but NJM turned on them when they needed help the most.” Said Fraser.
“We want to thank the jury for their service and for recognizing the overwhelming permanent spinal damage to this 22-year-old woman,” said Dinan. “It is our hope that this verdict will encourage other people, who are injured through no fault of their own, to stand up to the powerful insurance companies when they negotiate unfairly. One of the most amazing traits of the American jury system is that it is a group of strangers from the community that ultimately decides what is fair compensation for the damage done to a person’s life, not a powerful corporation. The jury is a guardian of justice for the individual against the powerful,” continued Dinan.