Articles Posted in Insurance Issues

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.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion explaining how the collateral source doctrine is applied under Virginia personal injury law. The case actually involved a breach-of-contract claim, however, in answering whether the collateral source doctrine applied to breach-of-contract claims, the court thoroughly explained the collateral source doctrine, its origins, and how it applies in Virginia personal injury accidents.

In this case, the claim was between a power plant and contractor what was paid to perform certain work at the power plant. According to the court’s opinion, there was a boiler accident at the power plant that resulted in the deaths of three workers. The families of the deceased workers filed claims against the power plant, the contractor, and several other parties.

Evidently, there was a contract between the power plant and the contractor that required the contractor to obtain certain insurance coverage. However, the contractor did not purchase the specified insurance coverage. Nonetheless, after the power plant paid out nearly $5 million to settle the cases, and incurred nearly $10 million in legal fees, the power plant was fully reimbursed by all available insurance policies. However, the power plant pursued a breach-of-contract claim against the contractor, arguing that it failed to obtain the specified insurance. The court had to determine if the power plant could pursue such a claim, given the fact that it had undisputedly already recovered for the total costs of defending and settling the lawsuit.

In Maryland, all motorists are required to maintain auto insurance. The purpose of requiring motorists to obtain car insurance is to ensure that, in the event of an accident, accident victims have an avenue of recovery to help them recover the costs associated with the accident.

An insurance contract is like any other contract. The insured pays a monthly premium and in exchange, the insurance company provides insurance. An insurance contract is a lengthy legal document, and the details of an insurance policy are typically complex. Among the many issues covered by an insurance contract, the document will explain the situations in which insurance coverage applies, the process by which the insured must file a claim, as well as the obligations of the insurance company to investigate the claim.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion discussing an insurance company’s obligation to settle a meritorious claim that is within a policy’s limits. Ultimately, the court concluded that although an insurance company does have a duty to settle a claim that is within the policy limits, this duty is only triggered by the insured making an offer to settle. If you have questions about insurance pay-outs after an accident, reach out to a dedicated Maryland car accident attorney without delay.

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Insurance companies want to minimize the amount they pay out in the event of a claim, and unfortunately, do not always compensate Maryland car accident victims according to what they deserve. If an insurer fails to fairly settle a claim, the insured may be able to pursue a claim of bad faith against the insurer. In a recent case before a state appeals court, the state found the plaintiff could pursue a claim of bad faith against GEICO after it failed to timely pay her insurance claim.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was in a car accident and suffered serious injuries. Another driver caused the car crash, and both she and the other driver were insured by GEICO. The plaintiff made a claim under the driver’s insurance coverage, as well as under her own insurance plan for underinsured motorist (UM) benefits.

After the plaintiff did not receive payment on the claims, she sued the driver and GEICO. GEICO then paid the plaintiff the maximum benefits under the at-fault driver’s policy, but refused to pay the plaintiff benefits under her UM policy. The plaintiff then filed a civil remedy notice (CRN) with the Department of Financial Services, and mailed GEICO a copy. GEICO subsequently agreed to pay the plaintiff her full UM benefits, but the plaintiff’s lawyer did not receive the check and release until almost three weeks later. This was 65 days after the CRN was filed with the Department of Financial Services.

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In the wake of a serious Maryland car accident, accident victims face many difficulties. Of course, these include overcoming the physical and emotional injuries that come along with being involved in a serious accident. However, even after an accident victim has physically recovered as best they can, before they can obtain compensation for their injuries they will likely have to deal with one or more insurance companies.

While Maryland car insurance is required by law and, in theory, operates to the benefit of Maryland accident victims. In reality, insurance companies are for-profit corporations that are motivated by their bottom line. To remain profitable, insurance companies must make more in monthly premiums than they pay out in claims. Thus, insurance companies routinely dispute motorists’ claims or attempt to settle them for as little as possible. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court illustrates the difficulties a motorist had when trying to file a claim under an underinsured motorist (UIM) insurance policy.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident that was allegedly caused by another driver. The at-fault driver had insufficient insurance coverage to adequately compensate the plaintiff for the injuries he sustained in the accident. The also plaintiff had two insurance policies, one with Allstate as well as a UIM policy with the defendant insurance company.

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Last week, we discussed a new Maryland law that required insurance companies to offer Enhanced Underinsured Motorist (EUIM) protection with all new individual insurance policies issued after July 1, 2018. Under the new EUIM framework, an accident victim is able to obtain the full value of their insurance policy without an offset for any compensation provided by the at-fault party’s policy.

This new law represents one form of insurance stacking. Insurance stacking is a term used to describe an accident victim’s ability to recover under multiple insurance policies based on a single accident. Some types of insurance stacking are permitted. For example, under the new EUIM law. However, other accident victims may be prevented from stacking in other situations.

Multiple-Policy Stacking

In the event that an accident victim’s damages are greater than the limit under their insurance policy, the accident victim may be required to cover some of their expenses out-of-pocket. However, if an accident victim is covered under multiple insurance policies, they may wish to file a claim and recover under each policy. Thus, by adding the recovery amounts between multiple policies, an accident victim is able to recover a greater amount.

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Maryland law requires that all motorists obtain a base level of car insurance in order to legally drive on the state’s public roads. Since 2011, Maryland drivers have been required to obtain underinsured or uninsured motorist (UIM) protection. This type of insurance compensates a motorist when an at-fault driver either has no insurance or does not have sufficient insurance to cover the injuries of a Maryland car accident victim.

Recently, Maryland legislature passed a new law requiring insurance companies to offer a new version of UIM insurance. Under the old UIM insurance policies, a motorist’s total recovery would be reduced by whatever insurance the at-fault driver had. For example, suppose a motorist was involved in a collision caused by another driver who had an insurance policy with a policy maximum of $50,000. If the injury victim’s policy max was $200,000, the injured motorist would only be able to obtain $150,000 from their own insurance company despite the fact that their policy limit is $200,000. This is because the old UIM statute counted the compensation from the at-fault party’s insurance policy toward the policy maximum of the injured motorist.

Under the new Enhanced Underinsured Motorist Coverage (EUIM), Maryland motorists will enjoy greater protection. Simply, an EUIM policy will not count the compensation received from an at-fault driver’s insurance company toward the policy maximum of the injured party. So, in the above example, the injured motorist would be able to recover a maximum of $50,000 from the at-fault motorist’s insurance company, and another $200,000 from their own insurance company.

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In some Maryland car accident cases, where the case is filed and litigated may be one of the first disputed issues that must be resolved by the court. For example, most Maryland accident victims would prefer to file their cases in a convenient venue, making trips to court less burdensome. In some cases, certain other considerations may also come into play, such as the local court rules or customs.

In a recent state court appellate opinion, the court discussed whether the defendant’s request to transfer the plaintiff’s case to a venue more convenient to him was properly denied by the lower court.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were injured in a car accident when the defendant rear-ended them. Evidently, a vehicle swerved into the plaintiff’s lane, requiring the plaintiff-driver to quickly apply the brakes. The defendant, who was traveling directly behind the plaintiffs’ vehicle at the time, failed to stop in time and ran into the back of the plaintiff’s car. The driver that swerved in front of the plaintiff’s car sped away and was never located.

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