Wisconsin court: Insurance company should pay

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A Wisconsin jury properly awarded a trucker $115,000 to punish his insurance company for how it handled his claim after his semi-truck hit a deer, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday, Feb. 20. The insurance company acted in bad faith by failing to properly investigate and review the trucker’s loss, the 3rd District Court of Appeals said.

John Kottke of Larson, owner of JFK Trucking Inc., hit a deer in Illinois in 2002 while hauling mail between Chicago and Des Moines, according to court records. The crash did $7,500 worth of damage to the front end, tire and fuel tank of his 1995 Peterbilt truck, court records said.

An adjustor for Commercial Truck Claims Management of Green Valley, Mo., determined the repairs could be done for $2,000 less by not replacing the vehicle’s custom parts and paint, court records said. Commercial issued a check to Kottke for $4,074, taking into account a $1,000 deductible in his policy. Kottke disputed the company’s decision, filing his lawsuit in June 2003.

A jury awarded Kottke $7,000 for the deer crash damages, $115,000 because Commercial acted in bad faith and nearly $90,000 in attorney fees, costs and interest, court records said. The company appealed, but the appeals court said the punitive damages were reasonable, given how Kottke had been treated by the company.

The company’s claims manager, Charles Johnston, told the trucker at one point that Commercial didn’t have to pay for all the “fancy paint and chrome stuff” on the truck and “if you don’t like it, that’s tough (expletive),” court records said.

The appeals court did send the case back to Outagamie County Circuit Judge Dennis Luebke to review the attorney fees awarded.