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Massachusetts Supreme Court Ruling Allows Injured Couple to Keep Millions in Awarded Damages

It can be difficult to get the money you deserve after suffering an injury from an accident. Drivers sometimes do not carry the statutorily required insurance or the insurance policy limits may not be enough coverage to cover all the medical expenses. A recent case, Boyle vs. Zurich American Ins. Co. (SJC-11791), illustrates how the pursuit of damages can become a complicated journey.

tires-lake-mohawk-1532726.jpgIn Boyle, a man was injured in an automobile shop. One of the owners revved the engine of a truck and a tire exploded, severely lacerating and fracturing the man’s left forearm and hand. He had to undergo several surgeries, suffering from permanent scarring and partial loss of function in his left arm and hand. The injured man incurred over $100,000 in medical expenses and was unable to work for a year. Even after he went back to work, he could only work at jobs that paid less and required less skill due to his injuries. The man and his wife filed suit for the bodily injury and loss of consortium.

Following the accident, the owner of the auto shop contacted his insurance agent. The agent provided written notice to the auto shop’s insurance company, which opened a claim file and began an investigation. Three months after the accident, the injured man and his wife hired an attorney who notified the owner of the automobile that they intended to assert a claim for bodily injury. This was given to the agent and then the insurance company. Seven months later, their attorney also notified the insurance company directly of the suit, following up with a “2nd Request” notice and letter at the end of the year. A year after this, the insurance company determined the auto shop was liable, and that the injuries were covered under the policy held by the auto shop. Soon after, even though the company did not estimate the liability the auto shop might face, it closed the case.

During this time, the auto shop stopped operating as a business. The shop did not inform the agent or the insurance company that the suit had been filed and did not forward any of the documents from the couple to the insurance company. The auto shop also failed to answer the formal complaint filed, and a default judgment was entered in the court. Over three years from the accident, a letter was sent to the insurance company advising that a hearing was scheduled to determine the amount of damages to be awarded to the couple. The amount of medical expenses, copies of the bills, and notice of the changed dates of the hearing were all sent to the insurance company where a clerk added them to the closed file, but failed to take any other action. The insurance company did not take any action to have the default judgment set aside and did not contact the auto shop or the couple’s attorney. The judge awarded $1.5 million to the injured man and $750,000 to his wife, in addition to the pre- and post-judgment interest.

The couple also pursued a claim against the auto shop’s insurance company for failing to defend the auto shop. The couple also obtained an assignment from the auto shop of its claims with the insurance company . The insurance company agreed to a settlement where the couple released their individual claims to receive over $1.3 million dollars – which was equal to the amount that accrued in post-judgment interest on the default judgment obtained against the company. The claims in place of the auto shop were tried in a jury-waived trial, and the judge found that the insurance company failed in its duty to defend and was the reason the $2.25 million dollar judgment was entered. The judge, however, subtracted the $1.3 million amount from the $2.25 million, and all parties appealed.

The Court of Appeals, reviewing prior case law and the evidence presented at trial, determined that the insurance company did have the duty to defend the auto shop. Since they failed to do so, they were responsible for the result, including damages that far exceeded the policy limits. The Court of Appeals also agreed with the injured man and his wife. After reviewing the settlement agreement that specifically excluded any damages from the assigned auto shops’s claim, the court concluded that the deduction made by the trial judge was improper. The injured man and his wife were therefore entitled to the full $2.25 million judgment.

Aggressive representation is necessary in any Massachusetts personal injury suit. The experienced attorneys at Karsner & Meehan can help you build a strong case. Call today for a free, confidential consultation at 508-822-6600.

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