Putnam deputy sues after settlement offers not up to snuff

By Chris Dickerson | Mar 9, 2006

WINFIELD – A Putnam County deputy has filed a lawsuit, claiming an insurance company and others were negligent in offering a settlement after a 2003 accident.

Ryan Lockhart filed the lawsuit March 7 in Putnam Circuit Court. Listed as defendants are National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., AIG Domestic Claims Inc. dba AIG Claims Services Inc., Joseph Manoni, individually, and the West Virginia Board of Risk and Insurance Management.

Hurricane attorney Bob Leslie said Lockhart, then a K-9 officer, was injured on Nov. 12, 2003, when he was en route to training for a police dog. The driver of another vehicle t-boned Lockhart's squad car, knocking him into the guardrail. The guardrail post came through the floorboard of the car and struck Lockhart's leg, causing a severe fracture of his tibia and fibula.

A claim was made to the other driver's insurer, and Lockhart was paid that policy's limits. However, that amount didn't fully compensate him for the damages.

At the time of the accident, injured deputies could not enter a claim under a county's underinsured coverage. But the law changed in 2004 to permit those suits, Leslie said.

So on Nov. 8, 2004, Lockhart instituted a civil suit against National Union and asked for damages not exceeding $75,000. The claim was assigned to Manoni to adjust and negotiate.

The latest suit claims the settlements offered were not fair and reasonable. The first offer was for $10,000. A second was for $15,000. The suit says the defendants did no other investigations into Lockhart's claims.

During mediation on Nov. 10, 2005, the defendants made a settlement offer of $17,500 and walked out when that offer was rejected, the suit states.

Then, 10 days before trial on Dec. 2, the defendants offered $60,000 to settle. That offer was accepted within 10 days of it being offered, the suit claims.

However, the suit says that between Nov. 10 and Dec. 2, no additional evidence came to light to support a three-folk increase in the defendants' settlement offer.

Lockhart's five-count suit claims first-party bad faith under the West Virginia Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act, a violation of the state Unfair Trade Practices Act and negligent training and supervision of adjusters. Also, it contents Manoni was acting as an agent of the other defendants, so they are vicariously liable.

Lockhart says he has incurred and will incur economic loss, attorney fees, travel expenses, physical stress, discomfort, aggravation annoyance, inconvenience and other losses. He seeks compensatory damages as well as punitive damages because he claims the actions in question were malicous, wilful, wanton, vexatious and in severe degradation of his rights.

He requests a jury trial. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge O.C. "Hobby" Spaulding.

Putnam Circuit Court case number: 06-C-81

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