Articles Posted in Uninsured Motorist

Two companion uninsured/underinsured motorist cases out of Cecil County were decided by the Maryland Court of Appeals last month.  The take home message for Maryland lawyers handling uninsured motorist appellate caseuninsured motorist cases: if you don’t follow the rules by settling with the underlying carrier, the court will not let you off the mat.  It is the ultimate in form over substance.  I disagree with the law, but I can’t quibble with the court’s 6-1 decision.  Really? Insurance companies should not be trying to eviscerate insurance agreements with their own clients, because their lawyers screwed up.

Both cases, Woznicki v. General Insurance Company and Morse v. Erie Insurance Exchange involved the typical scenario; in which the tortfeasor’s liability insurance tenders the policy and the plaintiff’s attorney accepts, while intending to make an uninsured motorist claim.  This is a special set of facts. Here, the insured’s UM policy explicitly stated that they had to bless any settlement with the tortfeasor’s liability insurance carrier  — or pony up the policy themselves —  to activate the UM coverage after a release was signed.

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uninsured motorist taxi

Can you make a UM claim against a taxi?

Question: I am a New Jersey resident who was in a car accident taking a cab back to BWI airport.  The taxi cab driver was probably speeding the accident was not his fault – someone just pulled out on us.  I saw the whole thing.  The driver who caused this mess had insurance with Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund which I’m told will have little insurance coverage.  The taxi cab company told me they have no uninsured motorist insurance.  Is this actually true?  Someone told me that every car has uninsured motorist coverage and that the coverage limits are the same as the liability limits.   Is this true?

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As the Maryland appellate courts continue their summer of personal injury enuni, we turn our attention to a uninsured motorist case issued by the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, in New London County Mutual Insurance Company v. Karoline Fontaine. This opinion works through some issues about uninsured policy provisions, something we do quite frequently at Miller & Zois in our sometimes mad quest to find insurance coverage to get our clients compensated for their injuries.

The facts on this one are both simple and tragic. A husband and wife were on their motorcycle and got into a collision. As is too often the case in motorcycle accidents, the husband was killed. The accident was not the couple’s fault, which is also often the case in fatal motorcycle accidents. But that is little consolation to the man’s family.

Neither the other vehicle nor its driver was insured. The motorcycle was insured by a policy with Foremost Insurance Company, and Foremost paid the full $100,000.00 under the uninsured motorist provision. Continue reading

The Governor signed yesterday a bill that allows auto insurance companies in cases where the at-fault driver has insufficient insurance coverage to consent to new uninsured lawsettlements against the at-fault driver without (1) limiting their right to raise any issue relating to liability or damages in an action against the insurer; and (2) admitting as to any issue raised in an action against the insurer.

The Maryland General Assembly made history with the bill: nobody is mad. Insurance companies are ecstatic and trial lawyers are indifferent.

You can read about the genesis of this bill here.

There is a bill pending in the Maryland Senate to overturn the Maryland Court of Appeals opinion in Maurer v. Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance six years ago. This bill allows car insurance companies who have underinsured exposure because the at-fault driver has insufficient insurance coverage, to consent to settlements against the at-fault driver without (1) limiting their right to raise any issue relating to liability or damages in an action against the insurer; and (2) admitting as to any issue raised in an action against the insurer.

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I had a prospective client call in a few weeks ago with an interesting uninsured motorist waiver issue that I thought I would share.

To keep the world simple, Maryland law requires that insurance companies match up their insured liability coverage to their uninsured motorist coverage. But it allows for an exception in those cases where the insurance offers uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in the same amount as their liability coverage and the insured signs a waiver that its liability coverage will exceed its UM coverage. This is an odd bet for the insured who is more worried about getting sued and not having enough coverage than making sure they are protected when they get in a car crash caused by someone who had no or little insurance. But, I don’t disagree that in the free market economy (I’m talking to you, Mitt), people ought to have the right to make this odd choice as long as it is a knowing and uninsured motorist waiverintelligent waiver. I think the law makes sense.

But what about these waivers? In this case, I have a high wage earner who gets into an accident with a driver with a minimum limits policy. He has a $300,000 liability policy that would clearly be offered if his uninsured motorist coverage mirrored the liability policy. Instead, he has the minimum $30,000 UM policy. Continue reading

Mealy’s reports on Jones v. Penn National, a North Carolina uninsured motorist case where the Plaintiff brought a bad faith claim against Penn National, the underinsured motorist carrier, in a case where the at-fault defendant – insured by Allstate, naturally – did not tender their policy. The court said that the Defendant has no obligation to offer UIM coverage before the exhaustion of liability insurance. I think a Maryland court would make the same ruling.underinsured motorist opinion

That’s the nutshell. You can stop there. Perhaps I could interest you in an overview of uninsured motorist coverage. Is that something you might be interested in? (Entourage devotees enjoy the joke. Everyone else looks annoyed.) Or we can break it down a little further.

Plaintiff gets into a serious accident. The defendant driver is killed. Allstate, who insured the defendant, offered $7,500 of its $30,000 policy. Plaintiff takes the case to verdict and gets a $185,000 verdict. Typical Allstate.

Plaintiff then brought a bad faith claim invoking North Carolina’s UIM statute and its Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Maryland has a similar law. Plaintiff’s lawyers claimed that Penn National was bound by a statutory duty — following the car accident and before Allstate tendered its policy – to evaluate the case fairly and honestly. In other words, they argue that Penn National is not as dumb as Allstate and knew the claim was worth more. Continue reading

This post was supposed to be about Medicare set-asides but I started with such a long intro about the psychology of claims adjusters that I’ll just hit the Medicare issue in a later post. (Or I’ll completely forget about it.)

To understand claims adjusters, get inside the labyrinth that is the claims adjuster’s mind. (Why labyrinth? I’m just trying to use mildly inflammatory language. I’ll stop.) Insurance claims adjusters are more Pete Rose than Barry Bonds: they get paid for singles, not home runs. The great things a claims adjuster does vanish into thin air; the mistakes live on. Ironically, plaintiffs’ lawyers operate in the exact opposite world: hit a few million-dollar verdicts in a row and everyone forgets your losses. Reason #42,353 why plaintiffs’ attorneys and insurance adjusters are the Montagues and claims adjuster

Accident lawyers have a misconception about this, thinking adjusters get hugs from the higher-ups for ripping off a plaintiffs’ lawyer in a settlement negotiation. Actually, hugs is the wrong word – they do get hugs. But mostly, that’s it. The way to make a name for yourself is not by screwing plaintiffs’ lawyers but by not screwing up yourself. Make sure everyone likes you and don’t make any mistakes. Overpaying on an accident case is not that big of a screw up: but failure to have a death certificate in the file before paying a wrongful death case? That is a federal crime in the insurance world. Under-reserving a case? That’s an aggravated felony.
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Almost two years ago now, Medicaid/Medicare liens became even more difficult to deal with as the law pushed to the lawyers and insurance companies the obligation of confirmation and resolution of Medicare/Medicaid liens. I’m sure betting an insurance company has yet to receive a fine for not verifying a lien before paying a personal injury settlement. But nobody wants to be the first.medicare lien law

Medicare, Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program Extension Act of 2007 created so many headaches people starting fighting back. In Haro v. Sebelius, an Arizona case in U.S. District Court, Medicare beneficiaries (and, interestingly, a personal injury lawyer in his own capacity) challenged – as a class – two things: (1) Can Medicare/Medicaid (hereinafter “Medicare because I’m sick of the slash) “require prepayment of a reimbursement claim before the correct amount is administratively determined where the beneficiary either appeals or seeks a waiver of the MSP reimbursement claim?, and (2) Are personal injury lawyers financially responsible for reimbursement if they do not hold or immediately turn over to Medicare their clients’ personal injury settlement awards.

Personal injury lawyers are completely in a pickle on these liens. Our clients want their money; we want to get them the money they are entitled to get. The question is whether personal injury attorneys are precluded from giving the clients their settlement money until after Medicare’s claim has been satisfied, and, let’s be honest, whether Medicare can recover the reimbursement claim directly from the attorney if the client cannot pay the reimbursement claim after the settlement money has been turned over to the client.

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The Maryland Court of Appeals decided today GEICO v. Comer, another appellate case that dives into the Serbonain Bog of whether uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage kicks in when trying to get coverage in an accident under an insurance policy for a vehicle was not in the accident that caused the injuries.

Plaintiff was in an awful motorcycle accident in Calvert County. The Defendant cut in front of the Plaintiff who suffered a myriad of injuries, as is typically the case with motorcycle collisions, including a fractured femur and an open head injury. He incurred over $200,000 in medical bills and suffered permanent injuries. Everyone agrees, an awful case.

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