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August 30, 2005 7:41 PM   Subscribe

In an Allstate commercial I have seen, the narrator tells a tale of a car that smashes into a house. The narrator continues to explain that the family got sued by the driver of the car. Can any lawyer-types out there explain to me how this is legally possible?

To me (someone completely unaffiliated with anything having to do with the law), this seems odd - how can it be possibly legal for the driver of the car to sue the family, although they had no wrongdoing? I can't find the commercial online, and I'm pretty sure that's what was said in the commercial. If I'm wrong on any accounts, please correct me accordingly. Thank you in advance.
posted by itchie to Law & Government (17 answers total)
Ahh, a hypothetical...

Let's see - my tort law is rusty, but, if the homeowner did not properly maintain the state of a driveway, for example, making it super slippery, and the driver did nothing wrong in entering said driveway (i.e. not trespassing etc.) - say to deliver a package - then general occupier's liability would seem to allow the driver to sue the homeowner - akin to a person slipping on an icy walkway to the front door. Other examples may be possible.
posted by birdsquared at 7:59 PM on August 30, 2005

The suit is the allegation of wrongdoing. They'd have a long way to go to actually win.
posted by piro at 8:01 PM on August 30, 2005

Anyone can file a lawsuit for anything. In fact, I just sued you, itchie, for leaving your socks on the floor in the bathroom.

What? You say you didn't? Well, we'll see what the judge says.

(Naturally, lawsuits that are sufficiently frivolous can be penalized by the court, above and beyond not winning the suit.)

Allstate is just trying to incite fear in you so you purchase their home insurance.

Interestingly, Allstate has filed suit over flaming Pop-tarts. Perhaps Allstate is selling insurance from being sued by Allstate?
posted by jellicle at 8:07 PM on August 30, 2005

As I understand it, you can SUE anyone for anything. You just probably won't WIN. The person you sue will have to go to the time and expense of defending the case though. But IANAL.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:20 PM on August 30, 2005

Sorry, didn't refresh before I posted!
posted by crabintheocean at 8:21 PM on August 30, 2005

I'll sue you!
posted by Plutor at 8:33 PM on August 30, 2005

Crazy. I just opened this thread while watching TV, and the commercial came on. It's the one where the kids and parents are taking boxes out of a house, with a voiceover about them losing their house, right?

The narrator says something like: "This family was in a car accident. They didn't lose their car, they lost their house, and the driver that hit them sued, and they didn't have our awesome insurance."

I think you misinterpreted the commercial--they were in a car accident, (with two cars), and then went totally broke 'cause of it and lost the house.

Sorry if it's the wrong commercial.
posted by stray at 8:36 PM on August 30, 2005

Itchie, as a PI attorney, that makes no sense, or very little sense. Allstate is a very slimey entity, by the way...
posted by ParisParamus at 9:16 PM on August 30, 2005

I've seen the commercial too, and I was confused at first just like you were. However, I'm sure that the (hypothetical) family's house didn't physically get struck by a vehicle. They're just saying that after the suit the family couldn't afford to keep their home.
posted by Evstar at 9:48 PM on August 30, 2005

Yeah, because the damages were more than their insurance coverage was. Now I'm really curious what they did, because it must have been really bad.
posted by joshuaconner at 12:03 AM on August 31, 2005

My wife is an adjuster for one of the big auto insurance companies. She's been doing this for a long time, and she deals with the very worst cases: liability exposures > $100,000 or fatalities.

It is easy to have an accident that quickly overruns policy limits - people hate paying for insurance, and generally will go with the minimum amounts required by the state they live in. For example, here in Virginia, the minimums are 25/50/20. That means $25,000 coverage per person injured, with a total limit of $50,000 for any single accident and $20,000 for property damage.

$25,000 is an easy amount of money to spend on a person if there are any injuries beyond bruises and scrapes. Medical care is expensive, especially if you spend any time at all in hospital, much less in ICU. As I understand it, the per-person amount is also used to pay for pain, suffering, missed work, and the long-term economic impact of serious injuries.

Here's an example that shows how you could lose your house over a car accident.

You're involved in an accident with some guy driving a brand new [insert favorite European luxury sedan here] fully loaded with all the bells and whistles. His vehicle is totalled, and you are determined to be primarily at fault for the accident. With no injuries involved, replacement cost on this car is somewhere north of $65,000.

If you are carrying coverage that does not meet this situation, you can be sued and lose your house.

[I edited this down at irontom's request -j]
posted by Irontom at 3:41 AM on August 31, 2005

None of the comments mention the fact that it is almost unheard of for anyone to lose his home as the result of a lawsuit, even if he is bare-ass uninsured.

But the commercial's point is that insurance is there to provide protection against all of the costs of a lawsuit. The biggest, which has been mentioned, is the cost of defense. Even if a lawsuit against you has no merit, it still costs money to defend, and an insurance policy will provide that defenhse.
posted by yclipse at 4:51 AM on August 31, 2005

Response by poster: stray, I had a fear that I misinterpreted the commercial. Sucks to be me.

Thanks everybody for the replies.
posted by itchie at 7:34 AM on August 31, 2005

But see, itchie, if anyone does make that commercial, we'll now know how it could happen! Ah, pre-emptive AskMeta!
posted by bachelor#3 at 7:52 AM on August 31, 2005

If I'm not mistaken, a homestead act would prevent your home from being taken in any of the cases mentioned above, regardless of whether you had insurance or not, so long as the value of the home is under a fixed amount ($200,000?). After that amount, you're only liable for the value of the house above that amount (if it's $200K for the homestead, and the house is worth $300K, they can place a $100K lien against the house).

so isn't it still just a bit mellow-dramatic?
posted by inthe80s at 10:11 AM on August 31, 2005


The legally required minimum coverage for liability insurance is scandalously low -- often just $25,000. A broken finger can cost more than that.

Anyone who has a substantial asset -- say a house -- or a reasonably high-paying job is foolish to buy anything less than the maximum.

Commercial owners (e.g., taxi companies) typically set up multiple shell corporations, each one with the vehicle as its sole asset. That way, they only have to buy the minimum insurance.

Some brokers advise not to get the maximum coverage because that encourages suits in case of an accident.

However, the risk isn't worth it. Almost all the cost is loaded into the first $25,000 anyway, since that's where most claims fall. Additional coverage, especially after the first extra increment, the practically give away.

I have $1 million/$3 million coverage, and if my insurer would sell more, I'd get it in a heartbeat.
posted by KRS at 1:14 PM on August 31, 2005

I'm not sure what a "homestead act" is, so I can't speak to that. The way my wife explained it to me last night: if this kind of thing happened to you, they wouldn't place a lien against your home. They would pursue you in court, and win a judgement against you. Then, it would be up to you to pay off that judgement by whatever schedule was imposed by the court. If you had no other liability insurance, and no other assets, you would wind up selling your house to pay off the judgement.

Regardless, the whole point of paying for insurance is to have some kind of buffer against bad luck, right? Even if this kind of event is unlikely (I assume it is), insurance is all about dealing with unlikely events. For my sake, no matter how unlikely a horrible auto accident is, I'm not comfortable saying "it will never happen to me". KRS and I will be covered in case bad things happen to us. People with minimum coverages will not.

This isn't melodrama, just an acknowledgement that truly terrible things can sometimes happen to good people.
posted by Irontom at 11:16 AM on September 1, 2005

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