Man Gets $6 Million in Settlement of Bad-Faith Suit Against Insurer

Times Staff Writer

A 27-year-old San Fernando Valley man’s lawsuit against an insurance company for bad faith in refusing to pay his claim for damages as the result of an auto accident that left him a paraplegic has been settled for $6 million, his attorney said Tuesday.

Roland Winkler, who was a passenger in the speeding Porsche of former rock star-actor Leif Garrett when it rear-ended another car and shot over a freeway embankment on Nov. 3, 1979, previously won more than $3.1 million in a jury trial against one insurance company and was awarded about $1.1 million from three other companies in a pretrial settlement.

The jury actually assessed total damages at more than $4.2 million but trimmed the award to Winkler on the grounds that he contributed to his own injury by being drunk and getting into the car of his best friend, Garrett, then not quite 18 and allegedly under the influence of drugs and alcohol after a beer-marijuana-Quaalude party they both attended.


Refusing to pay more than a $15,000 share of the damage award was the San Francisco-based Premier Insurance Co., which had insured the firm leasing the Porsche to Garrett’s mother.

Premier, according to Winkler’s attorney, Sanford M. Gage, contended that its policy provided only that amount for Winkler, even though it provided $300,000 coverage to the leasing company.

Gage said Premier refused Winkler’s offer to settle for $300,000 and, in effect, “rewrote” the policy by persuading the leasing firm to agree to a modification of its terms and limiting all coverage to $15,000.

Winkler sued Premier for bad faith and punitive damages, finally reaching the $6-million settlement that Gage said was, “as far as I know, the largest settlement of any insurance bad-faith suit.”

Winkler, who was a dancer and entertainer at the time of the accident, now lives in the community of West Hills, near Canoga Park, with his wife, Gail, whom he married last year.

The attorneys for Premier did not respond to a call for comment.