PINELLAS COUNTY, FL - A driver injured when four teens in a stolen SUV slammed into him in Pinellas County says he feels like he was in a wreck all over again. This time, he says, the wreck was emotional.
Ricky Melendez was on his way to work early in the morning on August 6 when four teens in a stolen SUV slammed into him. Three of the four teens were killed in the wreck.
Melendez was not at fault, but he’s learned his insurance company, GEICO, has agreed to pay the families of the teens in the stolen SUV $20,000.
"It hurts. I honestly feel like I was involved in another car crash emotionally, just betrayed," Melendez told the Tampa Bay Times.
Ricky says he was paid $10,000 in personal injury protection insurance or PIP but has already exhausted that money. He's reached $50,000 in medical bills.
“It was almost like opening a raw wound. It just didn't feel good. Knowing that they were going to get money,” says Melendez.
We called GEICO for answers but was told, I would need to have Ricky's approval. However, his lawyer Mark Roman said he can't even get a statement on why this money was paid out.
"I've been trying to find out that answer the first minute I heard about this horror story and no one has been able to tell me anything," says Roman.
Roman claims GEICO paid the families bodily injury liability coverage. Which means Ricky, would have been legally responsible for the car accident.
However, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made it clear that this crash was caused by the teens after they stole the SUV.
"I've never seen an insurance company pay the at-fault party in a case like this. I've never even heard of it," says Roman.
Jeff DeNight of Bentley DeNight Insurance says the cases of grand theft auto and car break are affecting us here in Pinellas County -- big time.
DeNight says since 2016 auto insurance rates have increased on average by 14 percent in Pinellas County.
"We all pick up our fair share of the burden of price increases," says DeNight.
He says auto thefts and auto break-ins play a big part but he also attributes other things like accident fraud, distracted driving and assignment of benefits, specifically windshield claim fraud as reasons you're paying more.
According to attorneys, the payout isn’t surprising. They say insurance companies often make payouts as protection against possible lawsuits. Whether suits are frivolous or not, court costs can add up quickly.
The Times article goes on to say that if it was discovered later that Melendez was even slightly at fault in the wreck, the families could sue for wrongful death.
The insurance company shouldn’t raise Melendez’s rates, according to his lawyer. But they might.