Like a Good Neighbor?

In my post that revealed the date the Missouri Qui Tam duo law firms actually met with the Rigsby sisters I noted that Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson & Gorny had tangled with State Farm before per page 3 of their Response to State Farm’s Motion to Disqualify. Following is an excerpt from the response that mentions the case:

Perhaps State Farm is still smarting from the multi-million dollar punitive damages verdict BFRG obtained against State Farm for malicious prosecution in Missouri courts, recently affirmed on appeal and final. See, Hampton v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., — S.W.3d —-, 2008 WL 65107 (Mo.Ct.App. 2007)

Being an inquisitive soul and knowing we’d never hear about a case like this from the blogging insurance defense bar at Insurance Coverage Blog or Folo, I entered the search string in google and up popped the case. As I read the facts I was reminded of a comment left by Bellesouth today on our recent Todd Graves thread:

Why do people defend them knowing that they are all geared up for malicious conduct? What makes people assume that State Farm is pure as the driven snow and the Rigsbys are out to get something for it.

That is a great question. A company like State Farm is the sum of it’s parts. My State Farm agents are a fantastic gentleman. Just as all of us are a mix of good and bad so is a business like State Farm, just on a larger scale. That said Judge Lackey must not have seen Hampton when he was labeling Dickie Scruggs a monster or he’d be more careful of how he used the term to describe people. Belle, you wonder how anyone could question the motivations of the Rigsby sisters in good conscience after they read the story of Jennie Hampton. (Point of disclosure my commentary is mixed with that of the court decision.)

Jennie Hampton’s life changed forever on December 22, 1997 when her Toyota Forerunner was stolen. She was fully insured by the Good Neighbor. She reported the theft to the authorities and filed a claim with State Farm. On December 26, 2007 the police found her burnt out car in a rural field. Though she didn’t realize it then, her Good Neighbor nightmare was just beginning.

On December 29, 2007 State Farm recovered the vehicle. The next day State Farm’s hired expert Carter Enterprises concluded the engine in the forerunner was inoperable before the fire. He reached his conclusion in the space of a day without dismantling the engine.

Despite the fact State Farm had statements that Hampton had driven the vehicle the night before it was stolen, State Farm, relying on their hired expert Carter Enterprises, concluded that Ms Hampton had provided false information to them by saying that the engine was in “excellent” condition when in fact Carter concluded the 4Runner had engine failure. The theory was that Hampton, along with the help of her boyfriend’s brother, Marvin Vail, had towed the car to Miami County and burned it to collect the insurance. Her claim was denied and Jennie Hampton sued State Farm.

While the civil suit was ongoing in August 1999, State Farm investigator Chris Pool contacted the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Paul Yonally, the local NICB agent, testified that Pool, the State Farm investigator handling Hampton’s claim, told him that they had a case he might be interested in. On September 2, 1999, Pool sent the file to Yonally and requested that he refer the case to the Johnson County District Attorney for charging. Of course Pool withheld exculpatory evidence from Yonally including a police report from the Miami County police report that made no mention of dual tire marks in the area where the 4Runner was found. Dual tire tracks would have been present if it had been towed to the scene of the fire by Vail, as State Farm’s theory of the case required. State Farm chose their NCIB investigator carefully too, they knew by going through Yonally, a former Kansas Bureau of Investigation employee, that the Johnson County District Attorney was more likely to file charges, as the prosecutor himself later admitted.

It was at this point that a legal dispute over a $10,300 claim became very ugly. On December 21, 1999, the day before the statute of limitations was to run on any criminal charges, Yonally met with Richard Guinn, the Johnson County Assistant District Attorney. On that same day, Guinn filed charges against Hampton, Vail, and Michael Storm, Hampton’s boyfriend. Hampton was charged with insurance fraud for listing the engine in “excellent” condition, and all three were charged with conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Hampton and Vail went to trial in May 2001, and the jury found both not guilty. After all there was no evidence to support State Farm’s fanciful theory that Ms Hampton had torched her own vehicle.

Of course, Ms Hampton’s civil suit was stayed this entire time while the criminal prosecution wound it’s way through the system. Justice was now delayed by three and a half years plus Ms Hampton and her associates had to endure the unimaginable financial and emotional stress of standing trial for a crime they obviously did not commit. Equally unimaginable is the depths of malicious behavior State Farm engaged in to avoid paying a $10,300 claim.

I was reminded of the McIntosh case when I read this from the appeals court decision:

One of the most significant issues in this case is the evidence presented by the Plaintiffs regarding the possible falsification of the reports by Carter regarding the status of the engine. Not only did State Farm have statements that Hampton had been driving the 4Runner the evening before the theft, which would have been impossible if, as Carter reported, it was in total engine failure, but also that the circumstances surrounding Carter’s report were suspicious…

This case has all the hellish elements of our own Katrina cases rolled into one: Lawyers bullying and issuing threats to witnesses and their lawyers alike, withholding evidence, misrepresenting evidence and encouraging the falsification of the work product of outside experts to name a few. Is our own slab litigation and the claims of fraud by Cori and Kerri Risgby indeed anecdotal per insurance industry attorney David Rossmiller or am I detecting a pattern of egregious behavior? Again the appeals court sums up State Farm’s behavior best and why the award of $4,000,000 in punitive damages for malicious prosecution would stand.

The Plaintiffs presented substantial evidence that would allow the jury to find that State Farm acted maliciously. Examples of this evidence include that State Farm did not provide NICB and, therefore, the prosecutor with its complete files. This included omitting the evidence regarding glass fragments with blood on them found in the car, which would tend to show someone had broken into the vehicle as opposed to the Plaintiffs being involved. The file also did not include the Miami County police report that made no mention of dual tire marks in the area where the 4Runner was found. Dual tire tracks would have been present if it had been towed to the scene of the fire by Vail, as State Farm’s theory of the case required.

Other examples include the alleged encouragement of the falsification of Carter’s report of the engine. There were also accusations that State Farm’s attorney told Hampton’s uncle, who was serving as her attorney at the time, that she needed to be careful about pursuing her insurance claim because criminal charges could still be brought. Hampton’s uncle also testified that one of State Farm’s attorneys told him that there were plaster casts of tire tracks found near the burned 4Runner that matched Vail’s tow truck. However, no such plaster casts exist.

Finally, there was also evidence presented that Pool considered contacting one witness’s diversion officer after the witness had changed his testimony in such a way that would not have been useful to State Farm. Although there was no evidence that Pool or anyone else ever spoke to the diversion officer, there was evidence presented that one of State Farm’s attorneys may have threatened the witness with perjury.

This, along with other evidence presented by the Plaintiffs, provided substantial evidence to support the determination that State Farm acted maliciously.

If State Farm is willing to have someone locked up on trumped up insurance fraud charges over a simple $10,300 auto claim one can only imagine what they’d be tempted to try with 6 figure slab claims. With due respect to our new friend Alan Lange at Yall Politics we may not see eye to eye on all the home grown villains but this case hits far too close to home for State Farm and their subsequent treatment of slab claims. It also makes the charges of dishonesty, bad faith and worse levied against State Farm by the Rigsby sisters all the more believable.

In the end the $4MM plus paid out in Hampton was chump change to State Farm. I fear this pattern of behavior of delay, deceive and deny will continue, especially since we handcuffed our own civil remedies via tort reform. For every Jennie Hampton that stands and fights there are 99 others who take the abuse and suffer in silence. Finally were Chris Pool or Carter ever brought to justice for their actions? I don’t know the answer to that question but I suspect it would be no.

We’ve been getting a fair amount of visits from Missouri these days. This case litigated to the bitter end and unlike most where an insurer acts badly and then buys off the plaintiffs with large confidential settlements, Jennie Hampton can speak freely about her experiences with the “Good Neighbor”. We’d love to hear her opinion of the Rigsby sisters and her experiences with State Farm. Perhaps we’ll be able to track her down.


12 thoughts on “Like a Good Neighbor?”

  1. I think the law firm in question has been targeted by State Farm because the firm has a history of taking cases to Court and not backing down. The industry handles it cases differently depending upon what type of lawyer they are facing. Aaron DeShaw noted in his 2004 book on Colossus that “In my opinion, there are three levels or tiers of Personal Injury plaintiff’s lawyers”.

    The Missouri lawyers are what DeShaw classifies as top tier lawyers who make up about 1 to 3 percent of the lawyers in a state. One thing of interest is that DeShaw notes that many of these lawyers do not focus upon developing a case to settle as they WANT to litigate the cases they take on. These types of lawyers typically are refered many cases per year by other members of the bar and only take a select few which they feel need their special courtroom attention. They rarely accept cases inwhich they feel a pre-trial settlement is likely.

    I also found it very telling about how the insurance industry manipulates the Court and medical profession via Colossus and other databases. He even asserts that the individual cases which a doctor “work on are tracked by the insurance industry for outcome. When you work with a lawyer who settles cases for a small amount , your personal case value goes down, and your value integer attacked to your Tax ID# goes down.” I can only imagine the boys from Missouri have the warming—DO NOT LET THEM GET YOU IN COURT—pop up when their name is placed in Colossus.

  2. Excellent observation Steve. The reply briefs indicate the Missouri Qui Tam duo aren’t the type to be bullied. The viscious assault on their professionalism may be an indication that State Farm well understands that fact.


  3. Nice work, folks. You have managed to find two or three claims out of the millions they’ve handled that State Farm messed up. With that kind of error rate, it’s a wonder they are allowed to do business any more.

    Maybe it would be better if they could automate their claims handling and take humans out of the loop. That would get you perfectly fast and consistant claims work.

    Oh, wait: you guys don’t like computers and models and such. You think they are bad. You want humans.

    But wait: aren’t humans prone to error and inconsistancy? And don’t error and inconsistancy make you mad? Oh, no! There’s no way out!

    I guess it’s official: you will never, ever be happy.


    1. Yes, your are certainly correct…State(less) Farm adjusters and claims people are CLEARLY prone to MUCH error and inconsistency…AGREED.

      1. There was no reasoning with Claimsguy but he wasn’t paid to be reasonable. That said he still reads us most everyday and I kinda miss his unique brand of cynicism. On Yahoo! Allstate he was known as Gar.


  4. Let’s not forget about our Good Neighbor in California

    Channel 7 & KGO Investigation Into How State Farm Does Business (Parts 1 & 2) Windows Media Video Tuesday, November 07, 2006
    Investigation into the way State Farm does business: State Farm cheats policyholders by forging signatures to deny coverage and orders employees to lie under oath in bad faith litigation. (17 min.)

    Channel 7 & KGO Investigation Into How State Farm Does Business (Part 3) Windows Media Video Monday, November 06, 2006
    Investigation into the way State Farm does business: Employees instructed to destroy documents that could be used against them and the use of “mad dog” litigation tactics in bad faith lawsuits. (5 min.)

  5. Belle that last link speaks directly to an upcoming post. While Rossmiller runs down the Rigsby’s for downloading evidence, Steve was following the shredder truck from State Farm office to office in Bay- Waveland. Coming on the heels of the first round of denials only a fool in denial would believe it was mere spring cleaning, especially at those offices which has flooded out just 6-8 months before. Excellent links.


  6. Belle, those are great links. Just here taking a break in this killer day but I saw where claimsguy had stopped by, too. Admittedly, you and Sop have posted only a small number of cases; but, I don’t know that the number is significant – although Sop, do you remember reading somewhere that State Farm had about 7000 cases pending just in federal courts. I know I’ve seen that number.

    Just the posted cases, however, negate the theory that what happened on the Coast was not usual practice.

    Interested in seeing your post Sop.

  7. Poor Jennie Hampton – well, she may be a little “richer” now as a result of the $4 million dollar punitve damages award, but one cannot put a price on being defamed, tried in criminal court, and now – FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE – having a criminal record. Sure, she was found NOT GUILTY, BUT SHE WAS INDICTED & ARRESTED ON FELONY CRMINAL CHARGES. She had no idea what that criminal jury (assuming it was a criminal jury trial) was going to say until the actual verdict was read. Just think of all the nights she couldn’t sleep thinking about her freedom being “snatched” from her, the days her thoughts were consumed with possibly losing her freedom, etc. Further, she had to walk around her town “out on bond” pending her vindication of being found NOT GUILTY in criminal court – all for what? A $10,300.00 ins. claim! It’s insane….$4 million is not enough.

    So, let’s see, her Forerunner was stolen on 12/22/97 and

    “…On December 26, 2007 the police found her burnt out car in a rural field.”

    The Forerunner was found 10 YEARS LATER!!

    I don’t have to be an expert in any field (just an ounce of common sense will suffice) to know that AFTER A DECADE of the “burnt out” Forerunner sitting in a “rural field” in the rain, heat, cold, etc., elements that State Farm”s expert (Carter) can honestly opine that the Forerunner’s engine was in “total engine failure.” Notice I said he cannot “honestly opine,” but he can certainly “be paid to opine.”

    Yes, it’s sad but true that for every Hampton case, there are countless others that are victimized by their own ins. company and do not have the resources to pursue recourse. Indeed, in the Hampton case, one would have to come up with bail money and the money for a criminal attorney. I note that Ms. Hampton was fortunate enough to have an uncle as her attorney – not everybody has an Attorney in the family.


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