Insurance company pays $20K to families of teens who died after crashing stolen SUV in Palm Harbor

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Not a day goes by where Ricky Melendez doesn’t think about the crash that nearly took his life.

He feels the pain all the time. That feeling got a whole lot worse this week when a letter showed up in his mailbox from his insurance company, Geico, explaining that they paid $20,000 to the families of the three boys who crashed into Melendez back in August.

“To be honest, it was like it ripped my heart out. It was like a punch in the gut like I never felt before,” Melendez said.

Melendez and his attorney Mark Roman are confused why Geico gave money to the parents of Keontae Brown, Dejarae Thomas and Jimmie Goshey, who deputies say stole an SUV and crashed into Melendez.

The three teens died in the crash. Keondrae Brown, who was also in the SUV, survived.

“The idea that Geico would pay bodily injury coverage to the families of the perpetrators is disgusting. It’s shocking,” Roman said.

Investigators explained that Melendez was simply driving to work and became an innocent victim when the SUV crashed into his car.

He feels like he should be off the hook instead of watching money change hands between Geico and the teenagers’ parents.

“I’m upset and hurt by the fact that they even felt like they deserved any kind of payment,” Melendez said.

Roman thinks the company may have something up its sleeves in case the families try to make Melendez responsible.

“It’s a little bit like hush money. To keep in quiet,” Roman said.

Geico recently responded with this statement:

“GEICO is very sorry for the accident that our policyholder, Mr. Melendez, experienced as well as for the families of the three young men who lost their lives in a tragic accident on July 6, 2017.  Some concerns have been raised regarding why GEICO took steps to resolve potential claims that could have been made against our policyholder, Mr. Melendez, by the families of the three young men who lost their lives, as well as by a fourth young man who was severely injured in the accident.  We would like to take this opportunity to explain why we took action to protect Mr. Melendez from these potential claims. 

Most states have moved to a system that bars your recovery if your negligence was equal to or greater than the other party involved in the accident.  Florida, however, has not adopted such a system. 

Florida allows an injured party to make a claim against another driver in an accident, even if that other driver had only 1% of fault for the accident.  This has left the door open for lawsuits against consumers in Florida, who most would agree did not cause the accident. 

Our responsibility in this terrible event is to protect our policyholder, Mr. Melendez, from claims that others may attempt to assert against him, whether those claims are true or not.    We did that.  In taking the steps necessary to protect Mr. Melendez, we made no determination that Mr. Melendez was at fault for this tragic accident in any way. 

Our actions were taken to protect Mr. Melendez regardless of the fact that we personally do not believe that he shared any responsibility for this accident.  We also made certain that no record of liability was placed against him that would cause his rates to change due to this terrible incident.” 

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