Court approves $9.1M deal, ends 7-year-old case

Published in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
June, 2015

By Lauraann Wood
Law Bulletin staff writer

It's been 11 years since her husband Frank was killed by a dump truck, but Maria Colella will soon receive $9.1 million awarded to her by a jury seven years ago.

The trucking company involved in the accident declared bankruptcy after a Cook County jury awarded more than $8.3 million in damages to Colella when it only had a $1 million accident-liability policy limit.

So Colella went after the company's insurer to collect the rest. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Donald R. Cassling last month approved a settlement where Occidental Fire & Casualty Company of North Carolina will pay the remainder of its insured's judgment.

Martin Healy Jr., an owner of the Healy, Scanlon Law Firm who represented Colella and JMS Trucking's bankrupt estate, said the settlement should make insurers tread more carefully when taking insureds' cases to trial.

"This type of settlement will, I think, generate some more sensitivity on the part of insurance companies to make sure they are negotiating in good faith where they have a policy demand." He said it is unfortunate that the case took so long to reach a resolution, but "in the end, the family is very satisfied." "They will be taken care of," he said.

At the time of the accident, JMS Trucking and its driver, Samuel Inendino, had a $1 million accident-liability policy limit with Occidental. Colella demanded the policy limit to compensate for the accident prior to trial.

In May 2007, before former circuit judge Susan Ruscitti Grussel, a Cook County jury awarded Colella $9,264,600 - reduced by 10 percent for comparative negligence - leaving a $8,338,140 award for the estate.

In October 2007, JMS filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Inendino and a court-appointed trustee for the bankrupt JMS estate assigned their insurance bad-faith and negligence claims against Occidental to Colella.

The complaint filed by Colella in 2008 in Cook County Circuit Court sought the unpaid remainder of the $8.3 million from the 2007 jury verdict.

Occidental contended it was reasonable not to settle the case while it was still trying to figure out whether Inendino or Colella was at fault in the accident.

In 2012, Occidental paid Colella the $1 million from JMS' policy limit plus interest.
Occidental settled the case last June for about $9.1 million, subject to bankruptcy court approval.

Cassling gave final authorization of the settlement last month, and the remainder of the settlement not paid in 2012 will be disbursed when Maria Colella, now living in Italy, returns to the U.S.

Occidental was represented by Rebecca L. Ross and James J. Sanders - partners at Troutman, Sanders LLP - and William P. Pipal, an associate at the firm.

Ross declined to comment, and Sanders and Pipal could not be reached for comment.

The consolidated case is Estate of JMS Trucking Company of Illinois, Inc., et al., v. Occidental Fire & Casualty Company of North Carolina, et al., Nos. 08 L 5244 and 08 L 13896.