Recently, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals analyzed whether an automobile insurance company had engaged in unfair practices regarding a car accident victim’s claim for damages. The plaintiff in this case had been awarded a substantial jury verdict of $818,000 for his personal injury claim against the driver who rear-ended his vehicle. The insurer had offered to settle for $25,000 and $60,000, both rejected by the plaintiff. In the current lawsuit, the plaintiff had argued that the insurer violated Massachusetts law when handling his personal injury claim. In essence, the issue was whether the insurer had refused to pay the claim without conducting a reasonable investigation.The facts of this case indicate that the plaintiff worked as a tow truck operator and had been assisting a vehicle stuck in a snow drift. While inside his tow truck, on the side of the road, another driver rear-ended his truck. He alleged that he was injured and brought a personal injury claim against the driver. The driver’s insurance company attempted to gather information from the plaintiff regarding his injuries, but apparently there remained doubt concerning his bodily injury claims.
The plaintiff contended that the insurance company violated Massachusetts law in their handling of his personal injury claim. On review of the summary judgment motion that had been granted in favor of the insurer, the appellate court first asked whether the insurer had conducted a reasonable investigation into the claim. The company had maintained a large record that documented their inquiry into the circumstances of the accident and the plaintiff’s injuries. Furthermore, the court stated that the plaintiff had not set forth an argument concerning steps that the insurance company should have taken but did not, when they were investigating his bodily injury claim.
The court also stated that the insurer had reason to be skeptical of the plaintiff’s claims. There was evidence that after the collision, the plaintiff had not sustained major injuries. In fact, within one month after the accident, a private investigator noted that he appeared to be working and busy.
Other evidence, according to the appellate court, caused skepticism regarding the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, the insurer learned that the plaintiff’s workers’ compensation insurer had questioned whether the accident had caused his claimed injuries and disability. While the plaintiff’s attorney had argued that he fractured three vertebrae, in essence, it was three herniated discs. Two discs had resolved themselves.
The appellate court stated that in this case, while fault for the accident was clear, damages remained a subject of disagreement. An insurance company must act in good faith and have a reasonable basis for resisting liability. In this case, the appellate court stated there had been a legitimate difference of opinion concerning liability.
At the Law Office of Michael O. Smith, we provide legal guidance and representation to injured individuals as they pursue claims for compensation after a motor vehicle collision. Our experience and strong advocacy help clients seek costs for medical expenses, missed work wages, and emotional pain and suffering related to the accident. Contact our office to learn more about your legal rights and to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Boston car accident attorney. We can be reached by calling (617) 263-0060 or using our online form.