Massachusetts Appellate Court Discusses Enforceability of Insurance Policy Settlement in Car Accident Case

When it comes to car accidents, an injured party has many options regarding obtaining a settlement or a judgment. This is especially true where multiple insurance carriers or policies are involved that provide policy limits to cover the injured person’s expenses. If you are coping with painful injuries and this is your first experience navigating a personal injury claim, it can be extremely stressful. Knowing whether to accept a settlement or the right procedures to follow to protect your rights isn’t always straightforward. At the Law Offices of Michael O. Smith, we proudly provide legal counsel to Boston car accident victims.

In a recent appeal, a Massachusetts Court of Appeal considered whether a disputed settlement agreement arising out of a car accident was enforceable. The plaintiff appealed from an order from the lower court that allowed the defendant’s motion to enforce the settlement. The parties had stipulated to dismissing the action on September 8, 2016. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the lower court erred by allowing the defendant’s motion to enforce the settlement because the parties had not entered into a valid agreement with the defendant’s insurance company.

According to the plaintiff, the insurance company’s release form, which it sent to the plaintiff in August 2015, that the company sent in response to the plaintiff’s demand for tender of the defendant’s policy limits, was a counteroffer. The demand letter sought the entire $100,000 policy, claiming that the damages exceeded the defendant’s limits. The plaintiff based this off of certain terms in the release that both the defendant and the insurance company would be released from all liability arising out of the accident. The defendant also responded by offering the plaintiff roughly $33,000 as settlement of the claim.

The plaintiff then filed the lawsuit and mailed a letter to the defendant stating that the insurance company failed to tender the policy limits. The plaintiff sent additional letters to the defendant’s lawyer requesting the policy limits or requesting that the defendant assign its rights regarding the insurance policy to the plaintiff so that the plaintiff could seek the policy limits directly from the insurer.

Eventually, the insurer tendered the policy limits which included language releasing the defendant and insurer from all further liability arising out of the crash. The plaintiff challenged this as including additional terms from the plaintiff’s original demand. The defendant filed a motion to enforce the settlement that the lower court granted.

The appellate court upheld the lower court’s enforcement of the settlement, finding that specific language in the plaintiff’s communications indicated that the plaintiff was seeking the policy limits in exchange for forgoing legal action. Specifically, the plaintiff’s letter stated that if the defendant did not tender policy limits, it would go forward with litigation and seek the maximum amount of compensation possible. The court interpreted this as inherently offering the defendant’s a release from further legal action if the insurance company tendered the policy limits. Had the letter omitted this language threatening legal proceedings, the plaintiff may have prevailed.

If you were hurt in a car accident, we are standing by to assist you with evaluating your legal rights and options. We offer a free consultation to help you learn more about how we can assist you in protecting your interests in settlement negotiations and when dealing with insurance companies. To schedule a free consultation contact us at 617-263-0060 or contact us online.

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