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Church and Insurance Company Lose Auto Accident Case Appeal


An award against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has been upheld by Wisconsin’s Supreme Court to the tune of $16.8 million. The money was awarded to an 86-year-old man who was paralyzed as a result of negligent driving by a church volunteer, according to an Associated Press news report.

Members of the state’s high court deadlocked 3-3, which meant that the appellate court decision to uphold the award to Hjalmer Heikkinen, was good. A diocese spokeswoman told AP that the money will be paid entirely by the church’s insurer, The Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America.

According to the article, the church member, Margaret Morse, while running an errand for the church, ran a red light and hit Heikkinen. Heikkinen was severely injured and paralyzed from the neck down. He sued Morse. Morse in turn sued the archdiocese and its insurer. A jury in 2005 found the church liable for the incident, awarding Heikkinen $15 million for past and future pain and suffering, $1.3 million for medical expenses and $500,000 to Heikkinen’s wife for loss of consortium.

The plaintiff’s attorney told the news agency that Heikkinen, who is now a quadriplegic needing full-time care will now get the private medical care, quality of life and dignity he deserves. The primary defense argument by the insurance company was that Morse was not covered by the church’s insurance because she was volunteering with a group that was separate from the church. Both the jury and the appellate court didn’t buy that argument saying that the service organization Morse volunteered with was operated by the Archdiocese.

When someone is doing something for you, you can be responsible for harm they may cause while they are about “your business”. If your babysitter drives your child to the park and causes an auto accident along the way, you are most likely going to be responsible. If your tree trimmer damages your neighbor’s car while trimming your trees, you can be held responsible.

For more information on red light running and how to help stop this menace, visit the National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running. To find out more about how to deal with insurance companies that refuse to pay legitimate claims, visit Fight Bad Faith Insurance Companies.

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