After 16 years, a Pennsylvania family has won a legal battle against Nationwide Insurance and been awarded $18 million from a local judge.
Berks County Judge Jeffrey Sprecher issued his ruling in favor of the Berg family last week.
Sprecher characterized the insurance giant’s efforts to fight the case as uncaring and arrogant, according to Pennsylvania newspaper, The Mercury.
The “litigation marathon,” as the judge described it, began after a car accident in 1996 in which Sherri Berg was hit in an intersection by a Chevrolet Suburban while driving her new Jeep Grand Cherokee. No one was injured in the accident.
A body shop reportedly told Nationwide — Berg’s insurance company — that the vehicle was totaled because the frame was bent. Such a determination would have cost the company $25,000.
According to court documents, the insurance company requested a second appraisal of the damage and decided merely to repair the badly damaged vehicle.
That decision saved the company $13,000, but the Bergs were convinced the repairs, which included welding parts of the bent frame, rendered the vehicle unsafe to drive. They sued the company in 1998.
One mechanic, who worked at the shop where the repairs were done, testified in court that the vehicle was unsafe.
"I knew the vehicle wasn't repaired properly," he said. ”And I knew if it was in a major accident, it would come apart.”
A nearby law firm, run by Hy Mayerson and his son Benjamin Mayerson, helped the Bergs with the suit and fought Nationwide for the entire 16 years.
“We are grateful to the legal system which prevailed, at each appellate level, so that our trial judge could render justice after 16 years of intense litigation,” Benjamin Mayerson said.
In his decision, Sprecher lashed out at the insurance company and its tactics to fight the relatively small claim.
"Nationwide was willing to risk the Bergs' lives to save itself money on a collision claim," Sprecher wrote, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Furthermore, he wrote, the company’s policy to fight the legal battle — even at a great financial loss — was meant to discourage others from filing similar claims.
“Simply put, what Plaintiff, and more importantly, what lawyer in his right mind, will compete with a conglomerate insurance company if the insurance company can drag the case out 18 years and is willing to spend $3 million,” Sprecher wrote, in describing the perceived policy.
“Nationwide’s message is 1) that it is a defense minded carrier, 2) do not mess with us ..., 3) you cannot run with the big dogs, 4) there is no level playing field..., 5) you cannot afford it and what client will pay thousands of dollars to fight the battle, 6) so we can get away with anything we want to, and 7) you cannot stop us,” he continued.
Daniel Berg praised his attorneys for sticking with the case and expressed sadness that his wife did not live to hear the verdict. Sherri Berg died of cancer in April of this year.
Sprecher’s decision also awarded $3 million in legal fees to the Mayersons.
Nationwide is expected to appeal the ruling. They issued a statement about the case last week, following the decision.
“Nationwide has a strong record of fairness in dealing with its policyholders’ claims without resorting to litigation. While Nationwide fully respects the judge’s ruling, we deny that the company engaged in bad faith on the Berg claim,” the statement read. “We look forward to setting the record straight.”