English resident receives attendant care award well below amount sought; fees awarded to her but denied to State Farm
Evelyn Proudfoot suffered an amputation of her leg after a Michigan car accident. She sued State Farm forr PIP benefits in November of 1997 and re-opened her case in 2006 to seek attendant care benefits. Proudfoot argued that caring for her prosthesis required daily attendant care and that she was owed medical mileage and other expenses including gauze, pain medication and a lift chair. In total, her attorneys asked the jury to award $381,000.00 in overdue PIP medical expenses. The jury awarded only about $28,000.00, although the Judge determined that State Farm's delay in paying benefits was unreasonable and awarded Proudfoot more than $200,000.00 in costs and fees. The Judge denied State Farm's request for fees.
State Farm appealed, arguing that the discrepancy between what Proudfoot requested and what she was awarded in attendant care proved that her claim ws "fraudulent or excessive" and that State Farm was therefore entitled to fees as a matter of statute. The Court of Appeals unanimously disagreed. First, it pointed out that part of State Farm's argument was based on the presumption that the jury's award was for mileage, however, there was no support for that claim in the record.
While the higher court agreed with the Defendant that a huge variation between tthe insured's request and the jury award is evidence of "fraud or excess," it is not determinative. The Court pointed out that there was no evidence of actual fraud and that the Plaintiff presented medical testimony in support of her attendant care claim. It concluded that the discrepancy may well have been explained by cultural differences between medical care in England and the United States and refused to award attorneys' fees to State Farm.
The Court also declined State Farm's request to allocated and reduce Proudfoot's attorneys' fees. It pointed out that since there was no record support showing what overdue PIP benefits the jury actually awarded, there was no factual basis for allocating the attorneys' time and reducing the award.