An attorney for a woman injured more than seven years ago in an accident is asking the Utah Supreme Court to determine if a lawsuit filed by his client should be reinstated.
John Preston Creer said he has asked the high court to accept the case that is an attempt to give attorneys standing to sue insurance carriers for "bad faith adjusting" of claims.So far, the judicial proceedings have gone against Christine Savage, 6319 W. 13400 South, who was severely injured Jan. 25, 1987, when a Jordan School District bus she was driving was hit by a car. She suffered back injuries and later had a disc removed.
Creer wanted a jury to determine if Savage was entitled to any damages, but 3rd District Judge Leslie A. Lewis dismissed the action. Creer appealed to the Court of Appeals, but its opinion upheld Lewis' action and Creer is asking the high court to accept the case and give a ruling.
According to the ruling by appeals judge Pamela T. Greenwood, Savage said her employer's workers' compensation carrier dealt with her in bad faith. She said Lewis ruled that Savage couldn't bring a cause of action against the carrier for lack of good faith and fair dealing because she was "not in privity of contract with the insurance carrier."
At the time of the accident, Educators Insurance Co. carried the district's workers' compensation insurance policy. Three physicians recommended that Savage have a dorsal column stimulator implanted because she continued to have great pain in her back in spite of a disc operation.
Greenwood said Educators referred Savage to another doctor who said the device wouldn't give the woman any relief. Based upon that statement, Educators informed Savage that, except for continued psychiatric treatment, her employer's workers' compensation insurance would not cover any additional medical treatment.
Savage filed a claim with the State Industrial Commission and the Employer's Reinsurance Fund later agreed to a settlement of the claim. As part of the settlement, Educators agreed to pay her disputed medical expenses, including those incurred for a dorsal column stimulator.
The woman filed a lawsuit against Educators, claiming lack of good faith and fair dealing, but it eventually was dismissed with prejudice.
Greenwood said the only question that must be answered by the appeals courts is: "Can an injured worker bring a cause of action for lack of good faith and fair dealing against his or her employer's workers' compensation insurance carrier?"
"In the present case," wrote Greenwood, "Ms. Savage is a third-party claimant against Educators. Consequently, Ms. Savage and Educators share no privity of contract; rather, that privity runs between Educators and the district."
Therefore, she wrote, based on the appeals court's ruling in a case called Pixton vs. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., Leslie's dismissal of the lawsuit was proper. "As an injured worker is not in privity of contract with his or her employer's workers' compensation insurance carrier, no cause of action arises."