Articles Posted in Insurance Issues

Maryland law requires every driver to purchase auto insurance, which ideally should cover them for damages caused in an accident. But anyone who has dealt with an insurance company in the wake of a Maryland car accident knows that insurers are notoriously difficult to work with. Sometimes, insurance companies will deny worthy claims against them, in the hopes that accident victims will lack the resources and knowledge needed to compel them to pay, and will instead give up.

For example, if Driver A gets into an accident with Driver B, and Driver B was at fault, Driver A may be able to recover for his medical expenses from Driver B’s insurance company. However, Driver B’s insurance company has an interest in paying as little as possible. In situations such as this, the insurance company may deny the claim and refuse to pay, sometimes without even giving a reason. Driver B may not be able to pay the claims on his own, and Driver A is then left with outstanding medical bills.

Driver A and Driver B may both feel frustrated in this case—they purchased auto insurance and followed the rules, and yet they still were not covered when an accident happened. In these cases, however, a lesser-known legal doctrine may come into play. When insurance companies deny worthy claims, they may be acting in “bad faith.” Acting in bad faith means they are violating their legal duty to act in “good faith” towards their clients, denying meritorious claims or otherwise operating in a deceitful manner to try and limit their liability. Importantly, both Driver A and Driver B may have a claim of bad faith against the insurance company. If they can prove bad faith, they may be entitled to the actual damages suffered by the accident victim and monetary compensation for the cost of litigation, such as attorney’s fees.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) reports that thousands of people are hurt or killed in Maryland car accidents every year. Crash report statistics have shown there has been a rise in Maryland car accidents every year since 2012. These incidents range from minor to severe, and Maryland car accident victims often suffer significant financial repercussions as a result of these accidents. Many accident victims do not realize that their insurance companies may not cover the extent of damages that they sustained. In these situations, injury victims may need to file a dispute with their insurance company to recover fully for their losses. In some cases, a Maryland personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party may be necessary.

Injury victims are often surprised to discover that their insurance company is taking an adversarial role when the policyholder attempts to collect on a claim. Many times, insurance companies will go to great lengths to dispute a claim, deny coverage, and escape making a payment.

For example, recently, a state appellate court issued a ruling in a lawsuit stemming from a claim dispute between a policyholder and her insurance company. In that case, a woman suffered injuries while she was exercising at a mobile gym. The woman filed and settled a negligence lawsuit against the gym’s owner and the personal trainer. The gym was run out of the back of a pickup truck, so she filed a car insurance claim with her provider to recover her remaining damages. Her insurance company disputed coverage, arguing that her uninsured/underinsured coverage did not extend to motor vehicles such as a mobile gym. The insurance company cited specific provisions in her policy that limited the insurance company’s obligation to pay a claim. Ultimately, the appellate court ruled in the insurance company’s favor finding that the coverage did not extend to motor vehicles that are “located for use as a premises,” such as a mobile gym.

Those who have been involved in a serious Maryland car accident may have sustained injury, property damage, and missed time away from work. If the other driver who caused the accident has insurance, the accident victim can file a claim under that driver’s policy. However, if the at-fault driver either does not have insurance, or their insurance coverage is insufficient to cover the expenses incurred by the accident victim, the accident victim may have to look elsewhere to obtain full compensation.

Most commonly, in these situations, an injured motorist will look to their own insurance policy. Under Maryland law, all insurance policies must by default contain coverage for accidents involving underinsured or uninsured drivers. It is only if the insurance company obtains a written request by the insured to waive underinsured/uninsured motorist (UIM) protection that an insurance company can issue a policy without this coverage. Needless to say, UIM coverage can be critical to an accident victim obtaining a full and fair settlement. Unfortunately, issues frequently arise when dealing with UIM policies. One issue that comes up often in Maryland UIM insurance claims is whether the person making the claim was covered under the policy.

Maryland insurance policies are contracts, and are enforced through state contract law. In exchange for a monthly premium payable by the insured, an insurance company agrees to provide certain coverage, as outlined in the policy. Among other things, all insurance policies must contain the coverage amounts and state who the coverage applies to. Often, policies will contain “exclusions” which outline specific circumstances in which coverage will not apply.

When accidents happen and people are injured, many individuals rely on their insurance policies to help them cover the costs. For instance, homeowner’s insurance policies can protect individuals if something that they own hurts someone else or damages their property. Maryland law allows the injured party to sue the at-fault party in court to recover monetary compensation, and insurance can help the at-fault party cover all or part of the award. However, some insurance companies may try to escape liability for certain types of accidents, relying on vague or ambiguous language in the policy’s contract.

Take a recent state appellate case, for example. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff brought suit when she was injured by the defendant’s Ford truck. The truck had been parked on an incline on the driveway when the plaintiff, examining it, pulled the emergency brake. The truck subsequently took off and went down the driveway, rolling over the plaintiff’s ankles and causing her multiple injuries, including several fractures and a knee effusion. The plaintiff then filed suit against the defendant, alleging negligence.

Typically, in situations like this, a defendant with homeowner’s insurance would receive assistance from their insurance company. However, the defendant’s insurer filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment to determine whether or not it had to cover the incident. The insurance company argued that they did not provide coverage for claims arising out of the “use” of a motor vehicle, and thus were not obliged to cover the defendant here. Ultimately, the question came down to what the ambiguous term “use of a motor vehicle” meant, since there was no further definition in the policy contract.

Understanding insurance coverage is a crucial part of any Maryland car accident case. After an accident, many unfamiliar terms may come up, potentially confusing an accident victim. Insurance stacking refers to a coverage option that some states allow policyholders to obtain to protect themselves if they are in a car accident with an under or uninsured motorist (UIM). Stacking enables policyholders to make claims under two policies or make two claims from different vehicles under the same policy. To obtain stacked insurance coverage, the policyholder must live in a state that allows this type of coverage.

State laws vary on whether policyholders are permitted to stack insurance policies. For example, Maryland does not permit policyholders to stack with multiple policies or within one policy if the language is clear and unambiguous. Whereas, Virginia allows drivers to stack policies unless there is clear and unambiguous language prohibiting stacking. Additionally, policyholders who wish to get this coverage must have UIM coverage on two cars under one policy or two separate policies on two vehicles. This coverage allows motorists to increase their bodily injury coverage if they are involved in an accident with a UIM.

States that allow stacking remove some unfair and burdensome barriers that motorists face when they are involved with a negligent uninsured driver. For example, a state appellate court recently issued an opinion in a case stemming from a car accident involving an underinsured driver. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff purchased a car insurance policy for two of her vehicles. She initially waived her right to stack her UIM coverage but then increased her coverage and was not presented with the same waiver at that time. Several years later, she was involved in an accident with an underinsured driver, and the insurance company attempted to limit her coverage and claimed that she waived stacking when she increased her coverage. The appellate court found that it was the insurance company’s responsibility to provide her with a new waiver; otherwise, it could not be said that the plaintiff waived her right to the coverage.

When someone is involved in a Maryland car accident, they have the right to file a claim against any party they believe to be at fault for the accident. Typically, these personal injury claims are made against other motorists. However, when the named defendant has an auto insurance policy – as all Maryland motorists are required to have – the insurance company steps into the shoes of the at-fault motorist to defend against the accident victim’s claim. Thus, in most Maryland car accident cases, the plaintiff is actually going up against an insurance company, rather than the at-fault driver.

Unfortunately, it can be challenging for accident victims to work with insurance companies. This difficulty is illustrated in a recent opinion released by a state appellate court. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was killed in a car accident after he was involved in a verbal dispute with the defendant outside of a bar. Evidently, as the plaintiff was leaving the bar, the defendant ran him over, killing him. The defendant was charged with voluntary manslaughter.

The plaintiff’s family filed a wrongful death claim against the defendant, who was insured through the defendant insurance company. The policy limit was $20,000 for compulsory insurance and $480,000 in optional insurance. The insurance company paid the $20,000 but argued that the optional insurance coverage did not apply because the defendant’s actions were intentional, and intentional conduct was not covered under the policy.

In the aftermath of a Maryland car accident, a victim may have multiple sources from which to recover financially. This compensation can help pay for medical bills and other costs incurred as a result of the injuries. For instance, a plaintiff may be eligible for some money from their insurance company. However, money received from an insurance company may affect a plaintiff’s potential civil suit against the wrongdoer, because personal injury laws typically try to avoid allowing a plaintiff from being “unjustly enriched” by obtaining more compensation than needed for their injuries.

Take a recent Virginia case, for example. The Supreme Court of Virginia, in a recent written opinion, held that a Virginia car accident victim could receive monetary compensation from both her insurance company and the defendant responsible for the accident.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was driving down the road when the defendant pulled out of her driveway and struck the plaintiff’s vehicle. The plaintiff suffered significant injuries as a result of the accident and had to undergo multiple extensive surgeries. Accordingly, the plaintiff filed suit to seek compensation for her injuries.

When someone is killed in a Maryland car accident, their loved ones can pursue a wrongful death claim against the at-fault party. Due to the tragic nature of Maryland wrongful death cases, they can result in significant damages awards. Often, the damages awards are much greater than any single insurance policy. Thus, wrongful death litigants will generally try to recover under as many insurance policies as are available. This includes the accident victim’s own policy, under the policy’s uninsured/underinsured (UIM) provision.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion discussing some of the issues that can come up when pursuing claims under multiple insurance policies. In that case, the driver of a vehicle lost control and crashed, causing the passenger’s death. The passenger’s mother, the plaintiff, filed a personal injury claim against the driver and settled for the full value of the insurance policy. However, because the damages the plaintiff suffered as a result of her daughter’s death exceeded the amount available under the driver’s policy, she also filed claims under three insurance policies she held.

The defendant insurance company provided coverage under one of the policies, but denied coverage under the other two. The plaintiff filed a breach-of-contract action against the defendant, asking the court to compel the defendant to provide coverage under all three policies. The lower court entered summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, but on appeal, that decision was reversed. The insurance company appealed to the state’s high court.

For those who have been injured in a Maryland car accident, understanding the types of available damages that can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit is essential. Generally, damages are divided into two categories:  compensatory and punitive damages. Simply stated, compensatory damages are focused on the harms caused to the plaintiff, whereas punitive damages are focused on deterring the defendant’s behavior that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries.

Compensatory damages are very common, and they are awarded in almost all successful car accident cases. These include damages based on past medical expenses, lost wages, and emotional harm, such as pain and suffering. Punitive damages are much less common in Maryland. To obtain a punitive damages award, a plaintiff must show that the defendant exhibited “actual malice.” Thus, a plaintiff cannot receive a punitive damages award by showing mere negligence, or even recklessness. Not only that, but also the showing of actual malice must be established by clear and convincing evidence – a higher evidentiary standard than is typically applied in personal injury cases.

A recent case illustrates the type of situation that may result in an award of punitive damages.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a case that originally arose after the plaintiff was injured in a Maryland car accident. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s subsequent medical malpractice lawsuit against her treating physicians was precluded by the one satisfaction rule.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident that was caused by another driver. The plaintiff was treated for her injuries at the defendant hospital. While she was being treated at the hospital, medical providers punctured the plaintiff’s brachial artery as they attempted to insert a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) line. The plaintiff developed an infection that required additional surgery.

The plaintiff initially filed a claim against the at-fault motorist seeking compensation for “emotional pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, and the inability to engage in her usual employments, activities, and pursuits.” The plaintiff settled with the at-fault driver’s insurance company for $25,000, and then filed an underinsured-motorist claim with her insurance company. That claim was settled before trial for $125,000. The hospital was not a part of either settlement agreement.

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