Last Friday, September 9th, a West Jordan jury (Judge James Gardner) returned an $800,000 verdict in an Underinsured Motorist auto accident claim. Sublimity Insurance v. Ho Ching Heirs was a de novo appeal by the UIM carrier from an arbitration award entered back in 2014.

Sublimity Insurance covered Luisa Ho Ching, 44 years old, under a UIM policy of $100,000. While a covered insured, Ms. Ho was injured in an automobile accident in February 2012. An underinsured motorist was driving erratically, crossed the median and collided head-on with the Ho Ching vehicle.

Liability of the third-party motorist was not contested. He carried $50,000 in coverage which was paid in full. PIP of $3,000 was also paid by Sublimity Insurance.

What makes the case interesting was that three months after the accident Luisa died of an acute dissecting tear in the ascending aorta. The main issue for trial was whether that fatal dissection catastrophic personal injury was caused by the trauma of the accident.
Causation was hotly contested by the defense, who pointed out that Ms. Ho Ching was obese, hypertensive, with a family history of coronary problems. The defense also contended that her injuries from the accident were minor, with no broken bones and only a short stay in the IMC Emergency Department. In summary, their experts were of the position that an aortic dissection caused by the February accident would have manifested itself almost immediately, and it is implausible that a dissection would be delayed for three months after an accident. Much more likely, in the defense’s view, was that the aortic dissection three months after the accident was a result of Ms. Ho Ching’s generally poor health.

The Ho Ching family contended that delayed dissections are a known phenomenon, that Ms. Ho Ching suffered a fractured rib and sternum in the accident, and that there was no other logical explanation for a catastrophic dissection in a generally-healthy 44-year old.

Experts for Sublimity Insurance were Dr. Wendell Gibby (radiology), David Ingebretsen (biomechanics), and Dr. Eugen Ivan (cardiology- Oklahoma). Experts for the Ho Ching Estate were Dr. Pat Luers (radiology) and Dr. Theodore Folkerth (cardiac surgery- California).

The jury returned a verdict of $400,000 in general damages to the widower, and $50,000 to each of Luisa’s children, for a total general damage award of $750,000. Special damages were also awarded, thus a total award of around $783,000.

Of course, the total award can’t be collected by the plaintiffs- the defendant’s liability is limited to the amount of the UIM policy– $100,000.

Family’s counsel: Bill Rawlings, Eric Nielson, and Mark Dahl. Sublimity Insurance’s counsel: Trent Waddoups

Salt Lake Auto Accident Attorney