Massachusetts Appellate Court Discusses Unfair Settlement Practices Claim in Auto Insurance Policy Coverage Dispute

The expenses that are involved in a car accident can add up quickly. Even if the person who caused the collision to take place has a car insurance policy, the policy limits do not always cover the full cost of your expenses, which can include medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. If you have your own underinsured or uninsured motorist policy, you can use this coverage to make up the difference. Whether it is your own insurer or the at-fault party’s insurer, insurance companies often make decisions that are in their own best interest and try to interpret their own policy terms to minimize the amount of compensation they are required to pay. If the insurer fails to play fairly, you can bring an Unfair Claim Settlement Practice claim against the insurer in civil court. A dedicated Massachusetts car accident lawyer can assist you in navigating this process.

A recent appellate opinion demonstrates how this process works. The plaintiff suffered injuries in a car accident. The other driver’s liability was not at issue, and the plaintiff accepted the at-fault driver’s policy limit of $25,000 to settle her claim. She then filed an underinsured motorist claim with her own insurer, but the insurer did not offer a settlement. The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit, seeking an order to compel the insurer to proceed to arbitration regarding the amount of damages that she sustained in the crash, as well as a claim for unfair settlement practices as a result of the insurer’s failure to offer a settlement. The court compelled the insurer to proceed to arbitration about the damages issue, which was adjudicated to be $50,000.

The matter proceeded to a bench trial regarding the unfair settlement practices claim. A bench trial is a trial that proceeds before a judge without the assistance of a jury. The parties waived their right to a jury trial in this instance. After hearing evidence regarding the unfair settlement practices allegations, the trial court first noted that the plaintiff provided substantial evidence about her accident-related damages, but she did not offer any evidence about the insurance company’s investigation or evidence about the type of negotiation discussions that happened between the parties. It also concluded that the plaintiff did not sufficiently demonstrate which damages were linked to the insurer’s failure to offer a settlement promptly. The plaintiff responded by arguing that the trial court erroneously granted the insurer’s motion to exclude three witnesses that the plaintiff wanted to examine who were employees of the defendant. The trial court reached this conclusion based on the plaintiff’s late disclosure of her intention to present and examine the witnesses.

On appeal, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision, including its granting of the defendant’s motion to exclude the three employee witnesses. The appellate court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the underinsured benefits settlement should have been provided promptly in light of the fact that the at-fault driver’s liability was uncontested. The appellate court agreed with the trial court’s determination that the insurer had reason to withhold payment, pending its own investigation.

If you have suffered injuries in a Massachusetts car accident, the seasoned personal injury lawyers at the Law Office of Michael O. Smith are ready to provide you with compassionate and responsive legal counsel. We have served many victims throughout the region and understand how stressful this is for you and your loved ones. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 617-263-0060 or contact us online.

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