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Galen Richey vs. American Family Mutual Insurance Company

FACTS:

In late-July of 2000, a 1400-pound limb fell on Brenda Richey’s home in Liberty, Missouri. It crashed onto her roof on a sunny summer day after storms had swept through the Liberty community for days, one of the stormiest summers in history. She called her American Family agent in Liberty to ask that she have the limb removed, but the agent said she had no coverage for the removal because the limb didn’t fall during a storm, which was not accurate. Brenda called the agent two more times and got the same response: NO COVERAGE. She called her mother, who had limbs removed from her house by American Family in the past. Her mother even called the agent.

The huge limb lay on Brenda’s roof for over a week, so she decided to call her brother, Galen Richey to borrow his chainsaw, telling him she was going to cut it down herself. It was becoming dangerous to Brenda and her 3 small children, whom she was raising as a single mother, living paycheck to paycheck and unable to pay a company to have the limb removed. Galen went to Brenda’s house to cut the limb off the roof.

While cutting the huge limb, one of the branches shifted and sprung loose, knocking Galen off the roof and onto his tailbone in the driveway. Galen sustained a burst fracture of his L-5 vertebra and a severe spinal cord injury known as a cauda equina injury. Galen is now a paraplegic and has permanently lost the use of his legs, among other permanent injuries.

THE LAWSUIT AND TRIAL:

Before he hired Brian McCallister of The McCallister Law Firm, Galen had tried to get some help from American Family before he consulted any lawyers. Because Brenda also had $100,000 of liability coverage on the homeowner’s policy with American Family, Galen asked them for that money to offset his hospital bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But they told Galen he wasn’t entitled to that money because Brenda hadn’t done anything to cause the fall, a claims adjuster mockingly asking Galen, “Well, she didn’t push you off the roof, did she?” Galen was upset by the comment and ultimately hired Brian McCallister, but not until after several lawyers had turned Galen away, telling him he had no case.

MISSOURI LAW PROHIBITS NEGLIGENT MISREPRESENTATIONS BY PROFESSIONALS

In 2005, Galen sued the insurance agent and American Family for negligence for the agent’s negligent statement that there was “no coverage” for the fallen limb. It was the first case of its kind in Missouri against an insurance agent and her insurance company for negligently misrepresenting the coverage of the insurance policy. Over the course of the next 3 years, American Family would continue to deny the allegation and never offered Galen a dime to settle his case before trial. Trial to a jury in Jackson County, Missouri was Galen’s only option.

The trial in Independence, Missouri lasted 7 days and was tried before Hon. Jack Grate. At trial, the agent testified that she didn’t remember receiving telephone calls from Brenda or her mother about the downed limb and that she would not tell a homeowner that she had “no coverage” for a clearly covered occurrence. But although she was required to keep copies of her telephone logs for 5 years, after only 3 years, she burned them.

AMERICAN FAMILY SAID “IT’S NOT OUR FAULT”

American Family defended the case by saying Galen made the conscious decision to get on the roof and remove the limb, so the fall was entirely his fault, not American Family’s fault. Galen countered by telling the jury that he wouldn’t have been on the roof at all if the agent had not misrepresented the insurance policy to his sister, Brenda. And Galen emphasized to the jury that American Family advertised its agents as “experts” about the policies they sold to the public, so of all people, the agents should know everything about the products they are selling.

A TINY POCKET CALENDAR RESONATES WITH THE JURY

Galen and Brenda’s Mother, Dorothy kept a small Hallmark® pocket calendar every single year, recording all kinds of important events and keeping track of what she did on any given day. She kept those calendars every year, never knowing when or why she might need them. Her little calendars went back to the 1970’s. When reviewing her pocket calendar for that year, she discovered she had recorded her phone call to the agent, the date the tree fell on her daughter’s house and even Brenda’s calls to the agent. The little Hallmark® calendar turned out to be a crucial piece of evidence in Galen’s favor. And the jury didn’t appreciate the insurance agent saying she “didn’t remember” the phone calls from Brenda and her mother, yet burning her only evidence of them after only 3 years, in violation of her own rules.

THE VERDICT

On the 7th day of trial in 2006, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Galen: $12,682,500. Following the reading of the verdict by Judge Grate, several of the jurors could not wait to talk with Galen and his wife, Marie and embrace Galen after hearing his incredible story. They wanted to make sure he knew they cared about him and they wanted him to be cared for in the future. American Family appealed the verdict to the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District, but the verdict was upheld in 2008. The Missouri Supreme Court rejected American Family’s last ditch effort to appeal in 2008 and the verdict was finally paid in September 2008, eight long years after Galen’s fall. With interest applied to the verdict pursuant to Missouri law, American Family paid Galen nearly $14 million.

THE LIFELONG RELATIONSHIP

Galen Richey is forever grateful for what Brian McCallister did for him and for his family. “For my way of life now, my lifestyle, I owe it all to Brian McCallister. If it weren’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be. He’s like a brother to me and I’d do anything for him, just like he did me.”

And about how it was to work with Brian McCallister, Galen Richey said: “With Brian, you know he truly cares about you and about your family. He always kept us up to speed and he never ever tried to mislead us. We knew we had a tough case, but we knew that when we hurt, he hurt. He’s more than just my lawyer, he’s my very close friend.”