If you are in a motor vehicle accident, you may be entitled to “uninsured” or “underinsured” benefits from your vehicle's insurance carrier if the other vehicles involved in the accident lack proper coverage. These type of claims are common in hit-and-run accidents. But it is essential you identify the other vehicles involved and establish they lack insurance coverage. Your insurer will not be eager to pay out uninsured motorist benefits, and you may need to seek arbitration to recover any benefits. A recent decision by the Appellate Division, Second Department, helps illustrate the uphill climb many accident victims face when dealing with these issues.
Matter of Hertz Corp. v. Holmes
In September 2011, a man was driving a rental car in Brooklyn when he got into an accident with a sports utility vehicle. The SUV fled the scene before the police arrived. The rental car driver filed an accident report with the police in which he provided the last four digits of the SUV's license plate number. The rental car company subsequently conducted its own investigation and identified who they believed to be the owner of the SUV and her insurance company. The owner of the SUV denied she was involved in the accident.
Meanwhile, the rental car driver filed a claim for property damage with the rental car company, seeking benefits under its supplementary uninsured motorist coverage. Based on the SUV owner's denial, the rental car company rejected the claim, since the driver could not prove he was hit by an uninsured vehicle. The driver then requested arbitration pursuant to the rental agreement.
The rental car company petitioned the Brooklyn Supreme Court to stay the arbitration. The court initially rejected the petition in 2012, only to be reversed by the Second Department in May 2013. The appeals court said the rental car company was entitled to a “framed-issue hearing” on the question of whether the SUV driver previously identified was in fact the other car involved in the accident. Remember, since the SUV was insured, the rental car company would not be liable for uninsured motorist benefits to the other driver.
Following the mandated framed-issue hearing, Bronx Supreme Court again ruled against the rental car company's petition to stay the arbitration. And once again, the Second Department reversed. This time, the appeals panel disagreed with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the evidence presented at the hearing. In an April 30 judgment, the Second Department concluded, “the uncontroverted evidence adduced at the framed-issue hearing established that [the SUV]...was involved in the subject accident.” The court cited the license plate information obtained by the rental car driver at the scene, as well as a subsequent conversation between the two drivers wherein the second driver apparently revealed her employer, which was the same as that of the SUV driver. Accordingly, since the evidence showed a second, insured vehicle was involved in the accident, the rental car driver could not maintain an arbitration action against the rental car company for uninsured motorist benefits.
As this case illustrates, uninsured motorist claims can be legally challenging. That is why it is important to work with an experienced New York accident attorney when dealing with any insurance company on these matters. Contact our office today if you need to speak with someone right away.