North Bay News of the Day, April 1, 2015

Insurers have a duty of good faith and fair dealing with the people they insure.  That means that they can’t make the types of dismissive decisions that one can normally make in the course of business conduct.  For instance, if an insurer is obligated to pay on a claim by its own insured, , the insurer can not try to hide the fact or make the claimant work to prove that fact without some extreme consequences if they are wrong.  This was illustrated in the case of Akerstrom v. State Farm.  Gary Akerstrom is an engineer who was sued by one of his clients.
Mr. Akerstrom then made a claim against his malpractice insurance policy with State Farm, which included a provision for attorneys fees.  Basically, State Farm was supposed to provde Mr. Akerstrom an attorney to represent him in the law suite by his client, but refused to do so on the grounds the type of work Mr. Akerstrom was doing at the time was not covered by his policy.  Our local judge, Judge Mark Tansil, agreed and dismissed the claim against State Farm.
Mr. Akerstrom appealed the decision and it was reversed on appeal and sent back to our Superior Court for litigation.  However, once the matter came back here to our local courts, State Farm decided not to take the risk of a jury finding in favor for Mr. Akerstrom and settled the matter short of trial.  Why?  Well, because of their duty of good faith and fair dealing they faced triple damages if the jury found that State Farm should have paid for an attorney for Mr. Akerstrom.  That would have been a lot of dough!  It was such a high risk that State Farm settled the matter for an astounding 7.5 million dollars!  (Ukiah engingeering firm gets $7.5 million from State Farm in settlement, 4-1-15, The Press Democrat.) Believe me, you know State Farm believes it did something terribly wrong when they fork out that much money.  It’s good to be reminded that our insurances laws protect us so well.  State Farm will likely think twice before they dismissively deny another claim.
The Petaluma Police have their hands full lately!  Last night, one of their officers observed a black Mercedes speeding and darting through traffic.  When the officer attempted to pull the car over for reckless driving, it fled on a high speed chase, including reaching speeds of 120 mph.  It’s not clear from the Press Democrat article, but it appears the driver of the vehicle crashed and fled on foot and has not been apprehended, yet.  (High-speed chase ends in Petaluma-area crash, search for suspects, 4-1-15, The Press Democrat.)  Not only did this happen, but Petaluma Police believe they have a serial robber on their hands.  Business owners in Petaluma have suffered a series of five robberies all involving a masked man walking into their store, threatening cashiers with an unseen gun, and then quickly running away with undisclosed amounts of cash.  (Fifth armed robbery linked to same suspect in Petaluma, 3-31-15, The Press Democrat.)  You can be sure that Petaluma has put overtime on the case to try and solve it because this type of crime causes so much concern in the community.  The culprit should be concerned about getting caught and perhaps that will convince the person not to commit another crime.  Pursuant to Penal Code section 213, he is facing at least up to 45 years in prison for the five robberies committed already.
Speaking of danger on the roadways, a young man died and his friend survived after a horrific vehicle collision apparently caused by the decedent turning left in front of an oncoming car.  Geeze, the young man who died and his injured passenger friend were only 20 years old.  (Santa Rosa man critically injured in weekend motorcycle crash expecting baby, 3-31-15, The Press Democrat.)  And he is a soon to be father.  A passenger in the other vehicle who was seriously injured is a famous singer songwriter named Norman Greenbaum.  I wish a speedy recovery for the two very seriously injured survivors.  I hope that Nhmia Kahsay will get to hold his baby in his arms.  Please drive safely everybody!
Apparently, Petaluma is not the only town with car chases recently.  After a pickup driver ran stop signs and sped at least 45 MPH in a 25 MPH zone he crashed into a parked car.  (Santa Rosa chase ends in crash, arrest of man in stolen truck, 3-31-15, The Press Democrat.)  Thomas Paine who allegedly was the driver can expect a heavy hand from the district attorney for resisting arrest, reckless driving, and felony evasion of a police officer that put others in danger.  I know the Sonoma County District Attorney enough by now to know that they will be asking for some serious jail time and if Mr. Paine has a criminal record he can expect even worse.  In cases like this we try our best to get low jail time, but it becomes problematical when our client has wantonly and willfully run from police and then caused property damage.  Thankfully for Mr. Paine, nobody was hurt or he’d certainly be facing hard prison time.


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