Photo of Mr. Steve smiling

Bittersweet Results in Wrongful Death Settlement Totaling $1,400,000

August 2018 was bittersweet at Clawson Fargnoli, LLC, as we were able to secure the final portion of a series of wrongful death settlements totaling $1,400,000. While we are proud to have secured such an outstanding result for a truly wonderful family, we would like to take a moment to acknowledge their loss of a loving husband, father, and grandfather who was cherished by his community. The photograph above is of the painting “Mr. Steve,” an acrylic on canvas work by one of the students at the high school where Steven Richardson was employed for many years. This painting now hangs on the school’s Wall of Fame, where Steve will always be remembered as a custodian, a co-worker, and, above all, a true friend who brought joy daily to students and staff alike.

This tragic accident occurred when law enforcement attempted to pull over a driver for a faulty brake light. When law enforcement initiated blue lights, the driver fled. A high-speed pursuit ensued, which lasted over nine minutes, spanned 12.1 miles, and crossed 3 jurisdictions. The pursuit traversed a wide variety of roadways, from the two-lane main street of a small town with a 25 MPH speed limit to four-lane divide highways with a 55 MPH speed limit. The driver and pursuing officers reached speeds in excess of 100 MPH on multiple occasions, with a maximum speed of 121 MPH. The high-speed pursuit ended when the driver and a law enforcement officer crossed the centerline of the highway and traveled for more than a mile against oncoming traffic before the driver ultimately collided head-on with Steven Richardson’s vehicle. Steve died as a result of injuries sustained in the collision. It was later determined that the at-fault driver was under the influence of a variety of drugs at the time of the accident, including a shockingly high quantity of methamphetamine.

There was an interesting path to obtaining this recovery for Steve’s family. The vehicle operated by the at-fault driver had just $50,000 of insurance coverage, which was quickly obtained. We then looked to Steve’s own automobile insurance, which had underinsured motorist coverage. A prolonged fight with Steve’s own insurer ensued, which required the filing of both a state tort case and a federal declaratory judgment action. After participating in a group that submitted an amicus brief to the South Carolina Supreme Court concerning the allocation of property damage coverage with respect to punitive damages, a key issue in our two cases, and a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court, we obtained the full coverage of $600,000 from Steve’s insurer. We then made a claim against the municipality for the negligence of the law enforcement officers in initiating and failing to terminate a high-speed pursuit where the danger posed by the initial violation (a faulty brake light) was far outweighed by the danger that the high-speed pursuit posed to the public. After retaining a nationally renowned expert witness on police pursuits, editing the police cruiser dashcam video to show the numerous grossly negligent acts of the law enforcement officers, and advancing some novel theories relating to the number of occurrences under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, we were able to secure $750,000 from the insurer for the municipality.

We are proud of the hard work by the Clawson Fargnoli, LLC team that resulted in this recovery. This was a complex case that required knowledge of some of the more esoteric aspects of automobile insurance law and the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, as well as the execution of a nuanced strategy, in order to maximize the value of the various claims. However, the time, effort, and expense associated with pursuing this recovery were more than justified by the heartfelt thanks we received from Steve’s family after resolving the case.