Interested party or public relations nightmare?

A Baltimore jury handed down a $760,000 verdict to the family of Kaitlynn E. Fisher, 24, an engineer at Aberdeen Proving Ground who was killed in a two-car accident in Baltimore on June 19, 2010.

The Fishers had filed the lawsuit on March 29, 2011, seeking $1.1 million from the driver of the other vehicle in the accident, Ronald K. Hope III. Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. was added later as party at its own request, and was represented by its in-house counsel, James R. Moffat.

That last detail — Progressive’s role — propelled this case into the public eye beyond the state boundaries this week.

Matt Fisher, a New York-based stand-up comic and Kaitlynn’s brother, took to social media to blast his sister’s insurance company for assisting the defense. His post on his personal Tumblr account, titled “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court,” went viral and showed up on heavily trafficked sites like the UK Daily Mail and Gawker. Progressive’s Twitter feed was clogged by outraged posts that were not helped by the fact that Progressive’s answer featured the smiling mug of company spokeswoman “Flo,” saying, “This is a tragic case, and our sympathies go out to Mr. Fisher and his family for the pain.”

By Wednesday, Progressive had dropped Flo and was going with the standard company logo instead. But, not before being called out by AdWeek for bad form.

UPDATE: After this post was written, Progressive released another statement saying it had settled with the Fishers. The amount was not disclosed.

Progressive was involved because Fisher’s policy included underinsured motorist coverage, meaning it would be liable if the damages exceeded the policy limits of the other driver, Hope.

And, the case was not straightforward when it came to the issue of liability.

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In-House Interrogatory

Not surprisingly, this week’s question is all about the Supreme Court’s healthcare decision last week. We know everyone else is talking about it, but, hey, that just means all you general counsels are talking about it, too.

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

General counsels are taking center stage this week in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s healthcare decision. The Supreme Court voted to uphold President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, including a requirement that individuals buy insurance.

General counsels both at healthcare companies and companies across the board that offer health insurance will be talking about the effects of the decision this week. Corporate Counsel talked to a general counsel who recommended a course of action in light of the decision.

According to the article, counsels should prepare for the decision in advance, mostly by letting potentially affected divisions of the company know how this could affect them. A general counsel should keep management in the loop for both scenarios and be ready to take action when the decision is made.

So, here’s our question for you:

How are you and your company dealing internally with the Supreme Court’s decision on healthcare?

Leave a comment below or email me.

Need to Know:

  • The biggest general counsel news this week is that Yahoo announced longtime general counsel Michael J. Callahan resigned. He leaves amid the legal department’s ongoing investigation into former CEO Scott Thompson’s academic record.
  • PetSmart Inc. has a new general counsel.
  • Our intern, @MattOwings (follow him!), takes a look at how local general counsels handle social media policies.
  • Ever wonder what it’s like to be the in-house counsel for The Walt Disney Company India?
  • Above The Law has advice on finding an in-house job.
  • Corporate Counsel looks at the challenges of hiring an international outside counsel.
  • Female general counsels say networking is the key to success.
  • More lawyers are going in-house in Western Australia, mate.
  • To get more in-house counsel news, sign up for our FREE monthly email newsletter, In-House Counsel. The newsletter is a compilation of The Daily Record’s coverage of in-house counsel news as well as job listings, movements within the industry and other resources. Click here to sign up today.
  • Follow us on Twitter for the In-House news and discussion: @TDRInHouse
  • Want the latest on who’s been hired, fired or moving and shaking in between? Head to our Movers and Shakers page to find out.
  • For networking events and other happenings this week in Maryland, check out our calendar of events.
  • Get the very latest updates from our law reporters on Twitter: @TDRKristi, @BenMook@Steve_Lash
  • Check out The Daily Record on Facebook.

In-House Interrogatory

This week it is all about CEOs and general counsels.

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

Clarissa Cerda, general counsel at LifeLock, Inc., took on her job around three years ago. The corporate counsel takes on a “partner role” with her CEO, Corporate Counsel reports. Cerda takes the company’s CEO to court proceedings and meetings with regulators.

“I took my CEO along,” she told Corporate Counsel. “A lot of people thought I was crazy when I decided to do that.”

Here’s our question for you:

What is your working relationship like with your company’s CEO? Do you let him/her have as much access to the in-house department as Cerda and why or why not?

Leave a comment below or email me.

Need to Know:

  • An in-house legal chief for a Houston company created a fake law firm and funneled almost $9 million of company money into the paying the “firm” for its “legal services.”
  • Texas Lawyer has the 2012 summer reading list for corporate counsels.
  • Pinterest hired Google’s deputy general counsel, Michael Yang, as its general counsel. Pinterest has faced copyright issues since its website has users post pictures and content from other sites.
  • A former Warner Bros. executive, Mark DeVitre, will join Entertainment Studios as executive vice president and general counsel. The company produces and distributes over 31 syndicated TV shows.
  • Remember how we reported this month that more law students are interested in corporate counsel jobs immediately after graduation? Well, it’s happening in India, too, except between 50 to 75 percent of graduating law school students went to corporations this year, The Times of India reports.
  • One in-house counsel in California is backtracking and going back to private practice after about 13 years. The general counsel for Callaway Golf, Steven McCracken, made the move in May.
  • Knome, Inc., the human genome interpretation company, appointed Gary A. Cohen as general counsel, senior vice president and secretary of the company.
  • If you are interested in intellectual property law in the gaming industry, check out this Q&A by the Las Vegas Review-Journal with the deputy general counsel of Cantor Gaming.
  • The Allstate Corporation named Susie Lees general counsel this month.
  • To get more in-house counsel news, sign up for our FREE monthly email newsletter, In-House Counsel. The newsletter is a compilation of The Daily Record’s coverage of in-house counsel news as well as job listings, movements within the industry and other resources. Click here to sign up today.
  • Follow us on Twitter for the In-House news and discussion: @TDRInHouse
  • Want the latest on who’s been hired, fired or moving and shaking in between? Head to our Movers and Shakers page to find out.
  • For networking events and other happenings this week in Maryland, check out our calendar of events.
  • Get the very latest updates from our law reporters on Twitter: @TDRKristi, @BenMook@Steve_Lash
  • Check out The Daily Record on Facebook.

A season of ‘light’ for the Court of Appeals

During this holiday season, Marylanders can perhaps rejoice in the fact their top court is a “point of light” and not a “judicial hellhole,” according to a national organization that seeks to rein in what it considers runaway jury awards.

In its annual report, the American Tort Reform Association praises the Maryland Court of Appeals for its Sept. 24 decision upholding the state’s statutory cap on noneconomic damages. By contrast, ATRA scorns the Illinois and Georgia supreme courts for striking down their state laws limiting awards for pain and suffering.

In contrast to the “reasonableness” of Maryland’s high court, justices in those two “judicial hellholes” replaced “the policy judgments of elected legislators and governors with their own,” ATRA’s report says.

The Maryland Court of Appeals, in DRD Pool Service Inc. v. Freed, said the state legislature had a”rational basis” for enacting the cap on noneconomic damages. The General Assembly limited awards for pain and suffering to achieve the “legitimate legislative objective” of keeping insurance costs down for companies and individuals, as the cap enables insurers to better predict their financial exposure in litigation, the court said.

“In our view, the cap continues to serve a legitimate government purpose,” Judge Clayton Greene Jr. wrote for the court’s 6-judge majority.

Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr., the sole dissenter, argued for a stricter standard. He said the cap’s defenders should have to show that it is substantially related to an important legislative objective.

Maryland’s noneconomic damages cap, which increases by $15,000 every Oct. 1, is currently $740,000.

Do you regard the court’s decision as a point of light?

With foreclosures, it’s ‘buyer be insured’

During the foreclosure crisis, much of the attention has focused on the people who have lost their homes.

But what about the purchasers of the foreclosed properties faced with what 50 state attorneys general – including Maryland’s Douglas F. Gansler — say is the real possibility that those foreclosures contained paperwork errors?

The situation illustrates why buyers should always insist on having their own title insurance coverage, rather than relying on the title policy the lenders insist they purchase, says real-estate attorney Lawrence S. Conn, of Baxter, Baker, Sidle, Conn & Jones PA in Baltimore.

“This is exactly the type of title defect that title insurance is designed to protect,” Conn said of paperwork errors in the foreclosure process.

The lender’s title policy, though, protects only the lender. Anything beyond that, such as the buyer’s down payment, would require an owners’ title policy, which is only marginally more expensive.

A buyer neglects this added coverage at his or her own peril, Conn added.

“Make sure that in this climate, [purchasers] certainly have title insurance,” he said.

One hairy insurance policy

What began as being too lazy to shave while on vacation last week has morphed into my first deliberate attempt at facial hair.

My goatee will be gone by the weekend, when I have to be in pictures for a family wedding, but for now it’s growing on me. (Ha!)

Whether I sport a goatee in the future will largely depend on what a future Mrs. Jacobs thinks of it. But then I read about Head and Shoulders insuring the flowing locks of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu for $1 million.

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Law blog round-up

Here are some tidbits to take your mind off Maryland’s heartbreaking loss yesterday:

  • Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker gives three immediate observations about the legal implications of the health care legislation, including how it might affect the Supreme Court.
  • Above the Law has more on the potential, legal fallout of the bill.
  • Speaking of SCOTUS, an Iowa lawyer provides an interesting take in today’s Baltimore Sun about its upcoming Snyder v. Phelps case.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica files a $250 million lawsuit against Dickstein Shapiro LLP for allegedly botching a patent application. (HT: Law Shucks.)
  • A former Wisconsin state employee has won a discrimination lawsuit against his employer… the State’s Equal Division. (HT and “Dept. of Irony” headline to Overlawyered.)
  • Today’s business tip – prevent profit “leaking” by recording all of your time while in the office.

This week in Maryland Lawyer

ON THE COVER: Top court returns — The Court of Appeals begins its September 2009 term this week. The high court will hear cases addressing the cap on non-economic damages, legal malpractice and whether a truck driver can be guilty of vehicular manslaughter for leaving the scene of a gravel spill from his truck.

Also on the Court of Appeals — the judges recall their summer break; columnist Chris Brown ranks last year’s votes; and plaintiffs’ lawyers Henry E. Dugan Jr. and George S. Tolley III explain the importance of last term’s landmark informed-consent decision.

In Breaking News, Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton fights new charges; an immigration lawyer is disbarred after pleading guilty to fraud; and an attorney owes fees for having filed suit without sufficient justification.

In Verdicts & Settlements, a motorcyclist receives $200,000 in damages after colliding with a hand truck that fell from a passing box truck.

U.S. District Magisitrate Judge Charles B. Day of Greenbelt has no plans to take it easy after stepping down from the Federal Magistrate Judges Association after a decade in senior posts at the group.

Stay up-to-date with our Law Digest, which includes cases from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court, Maryland.

This Week in Maryland Lawyer

mdlaw.jpgOn the Cover: Right on the Money – Murder. Larceny. Can this really be a civil insurance case?

Also, a 2-1 panel of the 4th Circuit upholds the federal sex offender registration law and a regulation that makes it apply retroactively.

In Breaking News, a retired Rockville lawyer escapes disbarment by a single vote on the Court of Appeals, and Baltimore County Circuit Judge Lawrence R. Daniels says he will not run for re-election.

Read about a settlement between a Baltimore dry cleaner and a Lutherville couple who claim the store ruined their wedding attire, in Verdicts & Settlements.

In this week’s Pro Bono, real-estate lawyer Sophie Dagenais discusses her effort to get arabbers — horse-and-cart produce vendors — a new headquarters.

Joe Surkiewicz explains why IOLTA doesn’t work, in his Of Service column.

Stay up to date with our Legal Briefs and Case Digest, with cases from the Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland Court of Special Appeals and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Biker v. Insurance Company: The rematch

From our sister paper south of the Potomac comes this story of a health insurance company that refused to pay on a $100,000 claim for a motorcycle rider’s injuries from a crash after he pleaded guilty to reckless driving, a misdemeanor. (He had been charged originally with drunken driving, Virginia Lawyers Weekly reported.)

Anthem Health Plans of Virginia figured there was no coverage because the General Provisions of its policy specify that it “does not cover any loss that results from the covered person committing … an illegal act.”

Roderick Bailey’s lawyer, though, argued that “illegal acts” is too broad a term to go undefined in the policy, which separately excludes the results of the insured’s felonies — under the “War” exclusion, 20 pages away from the General Provisions.

Misdemeanor reckless driving, by contrast, is essentially unintentional conduct, Bailey argues; and isn’t that what insurance is for? In other words, letting insurers deny coverage for unintentional conduct should be against public policy.

The lower court ruled for Anthem, which I’m told caused a stir among trial lawyers. Now, though, it’s the defense bar’s turn to worry: the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hear Bailey’s appeal.

A quick look online yields this similar case (pdf), decided in 2006 by a federal judge in Shreveport, La., but it’s hard to believe the situation doesn’t come up all the time. How do you think it would turn out here in Maryland?