Since insurance coverage is mandated by law, most car accident victims must deal with one or more insurance companies when seeking compensation for injuries to their person and property. An insurance company must follow certain settlement guidelines found within Massachusetts’ General Laws in order to ensure fair claims settlement practices. In a recent case, Villanueva vs. Commerce Insurance Company (15-P-697), the Appeals Court looked at whether or not the at-fault party’s insurance company offered a reasonable settlement prior to the trial to an injured pedestrian.
The accident that forms the foundation of this action involved a woman who was seriously injured after she was struck by a motorist. The insurer of the driver independently determined that the injured woman was more than 50 percent negligent because she stepped out between two parked cars into traffic while wearing dark clothes on a dark morning. There was a witness to the accident who provided a statement that he saw a car driving too fast, leaving the scene of the accident right after the collision occurred. The driver stated that she circled the block after the impact because it was still dark, and she did not receive a citation from police when they arrived at the scene. The injured pedestrian had no memory of the accident.
After the accident, the plaintiff sought the limit of the driver’s policy, but only if the matter settled prior to filing suit. The at-fault driver’s insurer offered only $5,000 to settle the claim, instead of the $100,000 policy limit. The injured pedestrian then filed suit against the driver. The driver’s insurance company tried repeatedly to take testimony from the lone witness, but it was unsuccessful at reaching him until right before the scheduled date of trial. The jury awarded the injured pedestrian $414,500, reduced by the pedestrian’s comparative negligence of 35% in the accident. After the jury verdict, but before post-trial motions, the driver’s insurer paid the policy limit of $100,000.
After this, the injured pedestrian filed suit against the insurer, claiming unfair claims settlement practices. The injured pedestrian argued that the driver’s liability was reasonably clear and that the offer of only $5,000 at the beginning was unreasonable. The Superior Court judge did not find the injured pedestrian’s argument persuasive, finding that a reasonable fact finder, based on the evidence presented at trial, could not conclude that the defendant insurer breached its duty to the plaintiff. The court based its assertion on the lack of expert testimony regarding the insurer’s statutory duty, as well as the vague facts available to the insurer to make its determination, since there was only one witness to the event, who was difficult to depose throughout the proceedings. The Appeals Court agreed with the logic of the lower court and affirmed the ruling in favor of the insurance company, which dismissed the injured pedestrian’s claim for additional damages.
The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the experience you need to pursue all avenues of legal relief. Our attorneys have dealt with many insurance companies and know when to push back against their attempts to limit the settlement you deserve. Call our office at 508.822.6600 for a free, confidential consultation.
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Rear-end Collision Appellate Case Helps Illustrate Burden of Proof Considerations in Massachusetts Personal Injury Cases, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, February 3, 2016