WILKES-BARRE – Luzerne County President Judge Thomas Burke has issued an order recusing the entire county bench from hearing an uninsured-motorist insurance dispute involving the sister-in-law of Judge Tina Polachek Gartley.
The order, issued Wednesday, seeks to have a senior judge from another county appointed to preside over the case involving Lisa Gartley of Wilkes-Barre and Nationwide Insurance.
Gartley's attorney, Timothy Lenahan, filed suit in October 2006, alleging Nationwide acted in bad faith in handling an uninsured-motorist claim Gartley filed seeking compensation for injuries she suffered when her car was struck by a drunken driver on in July 3, 2004.
The lawsuit alleged that, just days after the crash, an adjuster for Nationwide attempted to trick Gartley into settling the case for $2,569, despite knowing she had $100,000 in uninsured-motorist coverage.
Nationwide might have succeeded, Lenahan said in court documents, if not for the fact Gartley is the sister of Attorney Scott Gartley, the husband of Tina Polachek Gartley.
Nationwide ultimately paid Gartley the full $100,000. Her lawsuit seeks additional damages for the firm's conduct in handling her claim, alleging her case was indicative of a company-wide policy to take advantage of unwary clients.
Nationwide has denied it acted in bad faith and filed a counter claim against Lisa Gartley, alleging she had falsely claimed to have suffered severe dental injuries caused by the crash, according to court records.
Nationwide pointed to the testimony of an emergency-room physician who examined Gartley shortly after the crash. The physician did not note any dental injuries, according to court documents.
Gartley has disputed that assertion, noting other documents produced have supported her claims for dental injuries.
The highly contentious case has remained pending in county court as attorneys for both sides argued various legal issues relating to release of medical records and other information.
Judge Richard Hughes, who was last assigned to the case, issued an order in November that partially granted Nationwide's request for a protective order that would preclude Lenahan from obtaining certain documents.
It was not clear Friday what prompted Burke to issue the recusal order as no motion for recusal is publicly filed in the case.
Nationwide's attorney, Charles Haddick, said Friday he could not comment. Burke was presiding over a trial Friday and could not be reached for comment.