Bethel Jury Awards Over $15 million in Civil Suit

by Lakeidra Chavis on September 25, 2015

Allstate Insurance Company Logo. (Courtesy of Allstate website)

Allstate Insurance Company Logo. (Courtesy of Allstate website)

A former Bethel resident that was injured in a car accident more than 13 years ago, has been awarded nearly $17 million in a civil lawsuit, a Bethel jury ruled Tuesday.

But what happens after the ruling isn’t cut and dry.

“No one has said they’ll send a check and I really doubt they will,” said Bethel attorney Myron Angstman.

He’s one of the three lawyers who represented the case.

“It’s very gratifying to end a case with a verdict like that, but unfortunately it’s not the end,” Angstman said. “Now it will probably be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court. So there’s probably a couple of more years left.”

Angstman, along with two other Anchorage attorneys represented Angelina Trailov and her mother, Mary Kenick for over a decade, in case against Allstate Insurance Company and its adjuster Kathy Berry.

In 2002, when Trailov was 15, she was the passenger in a car accident on BIA road. Her head slammed into a telephone pole, causing a skull fracture and a punctured lung, among other injuries. The driver, who was cited for intoxication, was underinsured. When a person is underinsured, the insurance company has to cover it.

The case examined whether Allstate Insurance properly handled the claim against the driver, according to a press release by Angstman’s law office.

On Tuesday, the jury awarded $1.9 million and $15 million for punitive damages.

The case has been in litigation for nearly 13 years, and Angstman says it hasn’t been easy. The case is paperwork heavy, and every time a new claim is introduced, a judge has to make a ruling on it.

The case was initially between Trailov and the driver.

“There was an early attempt to settle the case when the accident happened and our claim now, has been that, that attempt to settle was done recklessly,” Angstman said.

After that attempt, Allstate Insurance filed a separate case against the driver, in an attempt to get out of the settlement. That went to the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco, but was unsuccessful, according to Angstman.

“That left the Alaska court to decide whether Allstate was negligent and/or reckless in the way they handled this claim,” Angstman said, “and the jury of Bethel decide that they were, both negligent and reckless.”

If Allstate appeals the ruling, the case will move on to the Alaska Supreme Court. If this does happen, Angstman estimates at least another two years until a final decision is reached.

Angstman says yesterday’s ruling of $15 million is the largest award to a contested case in Western Alaska.

But in Alaska, the state automatically gets 50 percent of the amount awarded to punitive damages.

Then there are also hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal feels from over a decade of litigation. And this doesn’t include the percentage each of the three lawyers will get for working on the case.

So all of these costs will be taken out before the award ever reaches the plaintiffs.

In a prepared statement, Allstate Insurance spokeswoman Laura Strykowksi confirmed the company will file an appeal.

“We are disappointed with the ruling and Allstate intends to pursue an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court,” Strykowksi said.

But Strykowksi could not state when the appeal would be filed.

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