Michigan Auto Accident Attorneys Stephen Sinas and Kevin Komar Obtain Jury Verdict Leading to $2.8 Million Judgment Against Auto Insurance Company

Sinas Dramis Law Firm attorneys, Stephen Sinas and Kevin Komar obtained a jury verdict leading to a $2.8 million judgment against a no-fault insurance company, that wrongfully denied no-fault benefits to a person who sustained severe and ultimately fatal injuries in a motor vehicle accident. The verdict was rendered in the case of Estate of Kevin Lindsey, et al v Esurance Insurance, which, after a trip to the Court of Appeals in 2021, has been pending in the Ingham County Circuit Court since 2017. During the week-long trial, Michigan auto accident attorneys Stephen Sinas and Kevin Komar worked together to dismantle the arguments Esurance put forth to justify its wrongful denial of no-fault benefits. Esurance recently waived any appeal with respect to the verdict and issued full payment of $2.8 million Judgment that was entered following the verdict.

The Facts of the Case

On November 26, 2016, Chelsea and Kevin were intensely arguing as she drove her Chevrolet Tahoe westbound on Lake Lansing Road back to the couple’s home. Kevin was riding in the front-seat passenger seat while the couple’s two-year-old son was riding in the backseat.  As the couple argued, Chelsea drove the vehicle westbound on Lake Lansing Road towards the roundabout at the intersection of Lake Lansing Road and Chamberlain Road. Chelsea testified that as the argument intensified, she screamed to Kevin “I want you out of my life! Kevin yelled back “Fine. F@#k it!” and opened the passenger door and left the moving vehicle. Chelsea testified that she was not entirely sure how Kevin exited the vehicle and that “it was like he was there and then he was gone.” Cheslea further explained that at the time of that exchange, she was slowing the vehicle down from its estimated traveling speed of about 30 mph.  After leaving the vehicle, Kevin fell onto the pavement sustaining catastrophic injuries, including severe traumatic brain injuries.  Kevin fought for his life for over 9 months and then tragically died, leaving his three children without a father.

The Legal Issues in the Case

The dispute in the case was whether Kevin Lindsey was intending suicide and/or injury when he opened the front passenger door and left the moving motor vehicle he was riding in while he was arguing with his long-time girlfriend and mother of his three children, Chelsea, who was driving the vehicle.

Under the Michigan No-Fault Law, no-fault insurers must pay no-fault personal protection insurance benefits regardless of whether the injured person was negligent or even reckless in sustaining their injuries. Under MCL 500.3105(4), however, no-fault insurers do not have to pay no-fault PIP benefits if the insurer can prove that at the time of the incident, the person committed an intentional act with the subjective intent to commit suicide or suffer injury.

In the Lindsey case, to prevail on the intentional injury defense, Esurance had the burden of proof at trial on two separate issues. First, Esurance had to prove it was more likely than not that Kevin intended to leave the moving motor vehicle, as opposed to inadvertently falling out.  Second, Esurance had to prove it was more likely than not that Kevin intended to leave the vehicle with the subjective intent to die or suffer injury.

The Jury Trial

At trial, Esurance could not produce any direct evidence that Kevin subjectively intended to die or suffer injury.  Rather, Esurance mainly relied upon its argument that based on the circumstantial evidence of Kevin leaving the vehicle while it was moving, it was clear that he subjectively intended to suffer injury.  Notably, during the trial, it came out that Esurance’s claim adjuster believed that Kevin was intending to commit suicide when he left the vehicle, but the adjuster’s supervisor had the different belief that Kevin was just intending to suffer a non-fatal injury to garner sympathy from Chelsea in midst of their heated argument.  Esurance did not present any other lay or expert testimony to support their differing theories about Kevin’s subjective intent.

Meanwhile, Stephen Sinas and Kevin Komar presented testimony from Kevin’s family members and friends who confirmed that Kevin had never sought to kill or injure himself at any point in his life.  They also confirmed that Kevin deeply loved his three children and was a dedicated father to all of them.  Kevin’s brother, Byron, added that because he and Kevin had an alcoholic father who left them when they were growing up, he and Kevin made a previous pact with each other that they would always be there for their own children.  Byron thus explained it would make no sense for Kevin to suddenly try to kill or hurt himself in such a way that would jeopardize his ability to be there for his children. Plaintiffs further emphasized how it was undisputed that Kevin left the moving motor vehicle as it was slowing down for the roundabout up ahead, which thereby made it plausible that Kevin mistakenly believed he could get out of the slowing vehicle and get away from Chelsea without getting injured.  Plaintiff also presented expert testimony from Ingham County Medical Examiner, Michael Markey, M.D., who confirmed that in his official role as Ingham County’s Medical Examiner, he determined that Kevin’s death from his injuries was more likely the result of an “accident”.  Moreover, the Plaintiffs presented expert testimony from a forensic psychiatrist who explained that it was very unlikely Kevin was intending to commit suicide or suffer injury, given that Kevin’s life did not include any history of suicide or self-harm, and that he possessed many of the known psychological factors that would protect him against those tendencies, such as his stable daily life, he love for his three children and extended family, and his plans for his own future.

The Unanimous Jury Verdict

After the week-long trial, the jury took less than an hour to deliberate before reaching their unanimous verdict.  The jury ultimately ruled in favor of the Estate and against Esurance.  The jury determined that while they believed Kevin intended to leave the vehicle (as opposed to falling out), he did not do so with the subjective intent to die or suffer injury.  Following the verdict, the $2.8 million Judgment was entered against Esurance.  Recently, Esurance agreed to waive any appeal with respect to the verdict and issued full payment of the Judgment. The Judgment proceeds have been used to fully reimburse Kevin’s medical providers for the extensive care and treatment provided to him before his unfortunate death.  Furthermore, a significant amount of the Judgment proceeds will be paid to Kevin’s children to cover the financial support they lost as a result of their father’s death.

Michigan’s Advocates for the Injured

In addition to Stephen Sinas and Kevin Komar handling the case at trial, Sinas Dramis Law Firm attorneys George Sinas and Joel Finnell have provided invaluable scholarly support regarding the legal issues in the case throughout the seven years it has been litigated. The work and result achieved in this case is a testament to Sinas Dramis Law Firm attorneys’ dedication to their clients, their commitment to legal scholarship, and their ability to go before juries and secure significant victories for their injured clients. In this respect, this case is another example of Sinas Dramis Law Firm carrying out its mission as Michigan’s Advocates for the Injured.