(MoneyNewsWire.Net, November 22, 2013 ) Fort Lauderdale, FL- On December 17, 2006, Paola Penafiel was stopped at a toll plaza as she returned home from the Miami Airport. Ms. Penafiel, a single mother of two children, was killed instantly when an Enterprise rental car operated by Edgar Baena collided into the rear of her vehicle at full speed.
The Enterprise car driven by Mr. Baena was rented by his brother who was visiting from New Jersey. Mr. Baena lived in South Florida and owned vehicle insured with Geico. On the day of the accident, Mr. Baena was driving his brother’s rental car because his brother was feeling ill. At the time of the accident, Mr. Baena’s brother was sleeping in the back seat of the rental car.
Due to the passage of the Graves Amendment, Enterprise was protected from any potential liability arising from the accident. Therefore, under the circumstances, the only hope for compensation for Ms. Penafiel’s minor children was from Mr. Baena’s measly $10,000 insurance policy with Geico. However, although Mr. Baena’s insurance policy with Geico was undeniably in effect, Geico denied coverage to its insured driver. Specifically, Geico took the position that Mr. Baena was not listed as an additional driver under Enterprise’s rental contract, and, therefore, did not have the permission of the owner to operate the vehicle at the time of the accident. Geico’s position was in conflict with long standing principles of Florida law which granted the lawful possessor of a vehicle with all the rights and responsibilities of the vehicle’s owner.
Despite the coverage denial by Geico, Attorney Mark Glassman, Esq., took up the fight to seek justice for Ms. Penafiel’s family. As explained by Mr. Glassman, “since the early days of the tourism boom, Florida law has sought to protect its citizens from injuries caused by tourists who, by nature, are transient. With the passage of the Graves Amendment, the car rental industry was successful in lobbying for a Federal law that stripped consumer protections put into place by the Florida legislature. In this case, with inspiration from the recent passage of the Graves Amendment, Geico set out to redefine Florida law in a manner that would increase its corporate profits at the expense of policyholders and the citizens of Florida.”
Strategically, Attorney Mark Glassman sought to turn the tables on Geico. Specifically, with Geico abandoning its insured, Mr. Glassman obtained a judgment in the amount of $5,000,000.00 against Mr. Baena for negligently causing the death of Ms. Penafiel. Thereafter, Mr. Glassman filed suit against Geico for improperly denying insurance coverage and a liability defense to Mr. Baena, and sought to collect the $5,000,000.00 judgment directly from Geico. As expected, Geico hit back hard. Geico’s team of lawyers removed the case to Federal Court and employed a strategy of convincing the Federal Judge assigned to the case to apply a combination of state laws from Louisiana, Connecticut and New Jersey; none of which provided the same level of consumer protection as Florida. As a result, the parties endured three trials, and the last trial resulted in a defense verdict in favor of Geico. Accepting defeat at that time would have essentially unwound five decades of consumer protection for the citizens of Florida.
Through a partnership with Attorney Marc Ginsberg, an appeal was filed seeking to overturn the defense verdict. According to Mr. Glassman, “We always knew that this case would have to be resolved by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.” Fortunately, the panel of judges who reviewed the case at the appellate level was headed by a former Florida Supreme Court Justice. After holding oral arguments, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court decision by relying upon Florida’s longstanding legal principles of consumer protection when it comes to automobile accidents. Not only was the verdict vacated, but the Plaintiff was declared the winner of the trial.
However, the fight was not over. Specifically, the decision of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals only declared that the driver of the vehicle who caused the accident was, in fact, covered under his Geico policy. For Ms. Penafiel’s family to collect the $5,000,000.00 judgment, another trial was required to prove that Geico acted in “bad faith.”
On February 7, 2013, a Federal jury unanimously decided that Geico did, in fact, act in bad faith. However, the judge granted Geico one more bite at the apple by granting a limited new trial. Finally, on October 21, 2013, another Federal jury again unanimously decided that Geico acted in bad faith. Thereafter, on October 23, 2013, a Final Judgment was entered in favor of the Estate of Paola Penafiel in the amount of $7,048,082.00, which is more than 700x the original policy limits.
Mr. Glassman tried to put it all in perspective in his statement, “I am overwhelmed and appreciative for the hard work of everyone involved, and especially the multiple juries who collectively took the time to weave through the difficult legal issues, and made sure that Geico was held accountable for its actions. While no amount of money can bring back the love of their mother, I will sleep well knowing that Ms. Penafiel’s children will have a financially sound future. Also, I am optimistic that we have caused Geico to fundamentally change its business practices in a way that will benefit its Florida policyholders.”
Mark A. Glassman, Esq., is the founding partner of the personal injury law firm, Mark A. Glassman, P.A., and has been practicing law in Florida for over 19 years. He is a graduate from the Florida State College of Law. In 2013, he was honored as a Florida Trend's "Legal Elite 2013." Mr. Glassman is married with two children, and enjoys playing basketball and coaching his son's soccer team. For more information, please visit http://www.usalawsuits.com/.
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