Child Forced to Sue Parents to Get Insurance Coverage for Medical Needs
By Gerri Elder
In Minnesota a brain damaged 9-year-old boy was forced to sue his own parents in order to get the family's auto insurance carrier to pay a $100,000 personal injury claim.
When Teddy Harrison was 3 years old, he was strapped into his car seat in the back seat of his mom's SUV. An uninsured Corvette smashed into the side of the SUV and caused a serious accident. Mrs. Harrison's vehicle rolled several times and the latch on Teddy's car seat came unhooked. The seat belt holding the car seat in the car also failed and the child was ejected from the SUV as it tumbled. Teddy suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the accident and is a quadriplegic requiring 24-hour care. He has trouble speaking and can not feed himself, but is able to operate his motorized wheelchair and attend school.
After the tragic car accident the police investigated why the latch on the car seat failed. They found that dirt and a coin were concealed inside the latch and that is why it unhooked during the impact of the accident. When the latch was buckled it clicked as if it was safely fastened, so Mrs. Harrison had no idea that her child was in danger.
The Harrison family sued the car seat manufacturer, Century Products Co. and the lawsuit settled for an undisclosed amount.
The family's auto insurance company, Progressive Casualty Insurance, agreed to pay a $100,000 personal injury claim on the accident, but only if Teddy sued his parents and won. So, Teddy Harrison, the brain damaged quadriplegic child, was forced to sue his parents for improperly installing his car seat.
During the trial attorneys for Progressive got crafty and argued that a 1963 law, designed to help victims of serious accidents, prevented Teddy's injury lawyer from presenting evidence about the child restraint system. The law, called the "gag rule", bars evidence in personal injury lawsuits about the use or lack of use of seat belts or child restraint systems. The law was passed to encourage car manufacturers to make seat belt standard equipment in new automobiles, but also so that the blame for accidents could not be shifted to the victims during personal injury trials. Progressive knew that without evidence about the child restraint system, Teddy simply had no case and they were off the hook.
In 1999 the "gag rule" law changed to add an exception clause. This change was very important to Teddy's case. Lawmakers changed the law to allow evidence in personal injury cases pertaining to seat belt and car seat use, but only in the case of defectively designed, manufactured, installed or operating seat belts or car seats.
So why would Progressive still deny the claim and fight in court when the change to the law very obviously would allow testimony regarding Teddy's car seat, it's installation and failure?
They argued in court that the exception did not apply to them. They told the court that the exception clause in the law was only designed to allow suits against manufacturers, not insurance companies.
The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed in a 6-1 ruling. Progressive Casualty Insurance will pay the $100,000 personal injury claim.