Jury award in crash tied up in appeal

CHARLES TOWN – A jury has awarded $2.1 million to the family of a young man killed in a 2007 car crash, but it could be years before the family sees any money because an insurance company is continuing to fight against paying the claim.

Kyle Hoffman, Jr. was 17 when he died following an accident on W.Va. 9 on Oct. 28, 2007. Hoffman was a passenger in a car driven by his friend William Piper who, according to the civil complaint, lost control of his Honda CRX, swerved into oncoming traffic and struck a minivan. Piper died soon after the crash, and Hoffman passed away in the hospital the following day. A passenger in the minivan was seriously injured.

Two months after his death, Hoffman’s fiancée gave birth to his daughter.

Piper was living with his grandparents in Berryville, Va., at the time, and they held a $1 million umbrella insurance policy with State Farm. Hoffman’s family has been seeking to collect a claim on that insurance for the last five years.

Charles Town attorney Stephen Skinner, who represents the Hoffman family, said State Farm has delayed paying the family and “refused to honor its contract.”

Both State Farm’s spokesperson and its defense lawyer in the Hoffman case, Kay Fuller of Martinsburg, refused to comment on the case.

Skinner said State Farm denied the Hoffmans’ insurance claim, justifying its decision by alleging that Piper did not live at his grandparents home, but was only claiming he lived there in order to be able to attend school in Virginia.

Skinner said numerous documents support the claim that Piper did live with his grandparents, including a driver’s license, vehicle registration, car insurance policy and a recent job application, which all list the Berryville address.

“(State Farm) provided no documentary evidence that he didn’t live where he said he did,” Skinner said. “They tried to have some of his family members say that he was just using the residence so he could go to school in Virginia. They forced us to go to trial 14 months ago to prove that (Piper) lived at this address.”

State Farm is currently appealing the decision.

The initial trial only settled the issue of Piper’s residence, and therefore whether he was covered by the insurance policy. A second jury trial was held last month to determine the amount of damages for the Hoffmans’ wrongful death claim.

“Once the jury agreed that the policy applied, State Farm still refused to settle the case. We would have been happy to have simply accepted the insurance policy,” Skinner said. “As we got closer to this trial, they offered only 1/10 of the value of the policy.”

At the second trial, the jury awarded the Hoffmans over $700,000 in lost wages, $500,000 for sorrow and solace, and $750,000 for loss of services, care, protection and assistance, along with other monetary judgements, for a total of $2.1 million.

However, that judgement was against Piper’s estate, and – even though the first jury ruled that Piper was covered by the State Farm policy – Skinner expects the family will have to file yet another suit to force the company to pay up. He said the Hoffmans have no interest in pursuing a claim against the Pipers themselves and only want State Farm to fulfill their legitimate obligations.

“We’ve been to trial twice, and they still haven’t honored the insurance policy,” Skinner said. “Even though this verdict is for a large number, it is just a piece of paper. It doesn’t necessarily come with a check. State Farm has completely dug in and they have yet to pay a single dime.”

Kyle Hoffman Sr., the father, said five years of drawn out legal proceedings have taken a toll on his family.

“It’s been a struggle. The impact that it has on you and on your family is tremendous. It is very hard to put in words,” Hoffman said. “The whole reason anybody has insurance is for when things happen. And when bad things happen you expect the insurance companies to do the right thing.”

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