Stella Case No. 121, Originally Published: 31 October 2007
Meal-delivery agencies provide a valuable service. They provide hot, nutritious meals and daily human contact to those who have trouble getting out of the house, shopping, and cooking for themselves. Most of their employees and volunteers are caring people who understand the value of what they provide.
Anne Keipper lives in Brookfield, Wisc. At 81 years old, she depends on delivered meals. And surely her delivery agency knew — as one of its clients — that she probably couldn’t shovel snow from her driveway each winter. She does go out of her way to have someone else plow it out so that others can reach her door, however.
On February 2, 2004, Keipper recalls, “There was a little bit of ice, not much at all,” left on her driveway after it was plowed. When Dolores Tanel arrived to deliver her meal that day, Tanel slipped on what little ice was left. She was hurt badly enough that another member of the delivery team called an ambulance.
Keipper heard nothing else about the incident for a long time — until Sentry Insurance Company sued her.
Stereotypically, the legal system is abused by opportunists trying to cash in against “deep pocket” companies. This time, the “deep pocket” is the plaintiff’s. Even Tanel — the woman who was injured — didn’t want to sue, but Sentry dragged her into the lawsuit as an “involuntary plaintiff.” Sentry, not Tanel, is the driving force in this case.
According to the complaint, Tanel received worker compensation benefits after her injury. As Tanel’s employer’s insurance company, Sentry wants Keipper, the homeowner, to reimburse it for the benefits it had to pay to Tanel.
Insurance companies perform risk analysis before issuing a new policy. Their premiums are calculated based on their assessment of the potential injuries they might have to pay for and the likelihood that various kinds of injury will occur. When Sentry chose to insure the meal-delivery agency, Sentry knew it was doing business in Wisconsin and that its clients were people who wouldn’t be able to shovel snow and scrape ice.
Despite knowing these risks and collecting profitable premiums, Sentry wants to shift its costs to Anne Keipper, even though there’s no outrageous negligence on her part.
Keipper is understandably upset. “It makes me mad because it wasn’t my fault.” On the day of the accident, she noticed that Tanel hadn’t taken the simple precaution of wearing boots. “What I remember seeing,” she told a reporter, “is that she had red shoes on, not boots.”
Fortunately for Keipper, it appears she had her own insurance policy, with Acuity of Sheboygan. Normally, a homeowner’s insurer will pay the cost of defending such a lawsuit and pay for a settlement or judgment against the homeowner (up to the policy limit). However, Acuity is apparently named as a separate defendant in the lawsuit. So it’s unclear if Acuity is providing a defense for Keipper and if it would pay a judgment against her. And Keipper, the 81-year-old who relies on meal delivery, just might be left with nothing.
- “81-Year-Old Sued in Meal Deliverer’s Fall”, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1 February 2007.
This is the fourth case written by a guest author, an attorney.
I searched, but the only references I found were pages like “Top 10 Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of All Time” rather than anything about what actually happened. Amusingly, when I searched I saw photos of last week’s sorry excuse for a judge, Roy Pearson.
My 2022 Thoughts on the Case
Where does it end? Does her homeowner’s insurance company now sue Meals on Wheels? And their liability insurer then sues …who? Sentry should have just paid up rather than whining over what had to be a pretty minor payout.
Naturally, last week’s case about the over-the-top lawsuit (millions for lost pants!) was suggested more than any other in 2007. And the letter flow matched! Here’s a small sample:
Cindy in California: “Thank you for keeping with this story. I wondered what became of the lawsuit! Hurray! This so called judge lost his job, serves him right. You’re also correct in the fact he should lose his license to practice law!”
Joel, a Paralegal in California: “A few points you overlooked: 1. The Plaintiff is not a ‘real’ judge. He was an Administrative Law Judge, which often bears much the same relationship to a real judge as a two-bit prostitute does to a chaste woman. 2. The Plaintiff achieved his ‘judgeship’ through racial discrimination. He was an affirmative action beneficiary, and was not considered in any way particularly smart or deserving. Other than through his skin color. 3. The Plaintiff was considered, by some people close to the matter, generally obnoxious and ‘pushy.’ 4. The Plaintiff may have been a bigot, according to some people close to the matter. He was quoted as making various bigoted remarks about ‘yellows… slants… slopes.’ The Plaintiff was, in my opinion, a dirtbag. But it is interesting to see that the media reports only his financial dirtbag actions, and overlooks his reputed bigotry.”
Well, 1. TSA clearly identified the exact nature of his position in the introduction; I prefer to leave it up to the readers as to the level of respect he should get. But then, actions are far more important than titles, and he’s getting the respect he deserves based on that, not his title. 2. Your objective, verifiable source for this assertion is…? 3. Your objective, verifiable source for this assertion is…? 4. Your objective, verifiable source for this assertion is…?
We don’t report rumor, we report what we can objectively verify, and then express our opinion on what we find. I have no idea whether Judge Pearson was the beneficiary of affirmative action or not, and whether he was qualified or not (in an educational and experience sense); his actions, not his skin color, proved he was not. If true, bigotry could be relevant in this case since the defendants were Asian, but as far as us missing some points, well yeah: we cannot very well cover every single bit of any case in a brief newsletter. I did do some expansive exploration of a couple of cases in my book, most notably the asbestos litigation mess, but here we necessarily have to stick to overviews.
On that point, for instance, several readers thought the dry cleaners were at least somewhat to blame for their own predicament:
Yogin in India: “In this case, both were in the wrong — the dry cleaners tried to take the judge for a ride, and he took the entire system for a ride. I guess this is what comes from people having too much time on their hands. The cleaners should have handled the situation better; it doesn’t matter that they were awarded court fees and stuff, the anguish and subsequent closure of their business outlet meant that in some way, they’ve paid for their wrongs. In all this, they kept a whole other bunch of people occupied doing something quite worthless. The judge; well, what a legal system. How can such a person get elevated to the level of judge???”
At least the system corrected itself: he’s not a judge anymore. (And the defendants dropped their claim for “court fees and stuff” to try to get things behind them.)
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6 Comments on “121: Hot Meal, Cold Heart”
So, how does this work? Say Sentry wins and recovers their costs for paying on this insurance, does Sentry then return all premiums paid to it by the insured? It is my (mis?)understanding of the insurance business that they make money by figuring the risks of a payout and charge the insured based on that probability. If the business is competent, then their actuaries have advised them correctly, and the payout is made and the business still makes money. If Sentry recovers its costs in any other manner, can it ethically claim the insurance premiums also? Seems like double dipping to me.
You have to wonder what Sentry would do if EVERYBODY CANCELED THEIR INSURANCE THROUGH THEM!! With NO INCOME OF ANY KIND, they would not have any claims to pay, but they would also be OUT OF BUSINESS!! I know for certain that if they were my insurance company, I would cancel and look elsewhere for insurance!!
On the other hand, customers may like them because they “work hard to keep premiums down.” In other words, good luck on any sort of boycott. -rc
It would be interesting to know how much Sentry spent on lawyers, “investigators” and court costs as I suspect that it was far more than the payout to the injured person.
I had the same thought. -rc
I’d say that Anne Keipper was a remarkable lady. I did not see if there was any final outcome to this case but I did find her obituary (the age and location match even if the spelling of her name “Anne” v “Ann” differ). This lady would have been an amazing lady to know.
Good catch. Ann/Anne seems to be a nickname, since her real first name was Orpah. What a pistol! She lived to 87. -rc
In this case, I don’t expect that they are truly expecting the homeowner to pay. This is probably a case of the Work Comp carrier trying to subrogate on the homeowner’s policy. (For those unaware, subrogation is the process where one insurance carrier attempts to recoup claim payments from another insurance carrier when that second carrier should have paid all/some of the costs). In many jurisdictions, subrogation involves a lawsuit, and the one insurance company may not be able to go “directly after” the other insurance carrier, but must name the policyholder in the suit in order to get the payment from the other carrier.
Note: I work at an insurance company, but not in the subrogation department.
I’m sure that’s right. I know of a case where a woman died on her first parachute jump — she landed on a helicopter that was preparing to take off. A few months later, the helicopter owners (or rather, their insurers) sued the woman’s estate for the damage caused. They had no intention of suing the deceased; they wanted to reach her insurers (no-one in the UK gets to jump without insurance).