Defendants Provide Non-Negligent ExplanationIn Bello v. Masters Auto Collision of Long Is., Inc., the Second Department recently addressed whether the defendants were not at fault in the subject car accident. The plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle driven by co-defendant Alcantar which allegedly struck the rear of a vehicle owned by defendant Masters Auto and operated by defendant Mendez. Masters Auto and Mendez moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. The Court set forth that a driver of a vehicle approaching another vehicle from the rear is required to maintain a reasonably safe distance and rate of speed under the prevailing conditions to avoid colliding with the other vehicle. Thus, a rear-end collision with a stopped or stopping vehicle establishes a prima facie case of negligence on the operator of the rear vehicle. In turn, to rebut the inference of negligence, that operator is required to provide a nonnegligent explanation for the collision. Master Auto and Mendez established that they were struck in the rear when stopped in traffic, and as such were not at fault. This decision serves as a reminder the burden a party has when involved in a rear-end collision. Thanks to Corey Morgenstern for his contribution to this article. Should you have any questions, please contact Andrew Gibbs.Read More
Punitive Damages Denied In Red Light Auto Case (PA)In Koch v. Lawson, 2023 U.S. Dist. Lexis 65802, 2023 WL 2923139, a Pennsylvania Court held that simply driving through a red light did not rise to the level to warrant punitive damages. In Pennsylvania, punitive damages are proper, “when a person’s actions are of such an outrageous nature as to demonstrate intentional, willful, wanton or reckless conduct.” In order to seek punitive damages, a plaintiff must aver facts in his complaint and not mere conclusions. The Plaintiff sought punitive damages after sustaining serious and permanent injuries when a tractor and trailer ran a red light a struck the Plaintiff’s vehicle. The Plaintiff alleged that the truck driver violated many traffic laws, including driving while being distracted or fatigued and falling asleep while driving. The Plaintiff failed to plead in his fact section of his complaint that the trucker driver was asleep at the wheel instead it only alleges that the truck driver violated traffic law. The court held that at most the Plaintiff only alleged that the truck driver failed to comply with traffic laws, and that is insufficient for punitive damages. Thanks to Jean Scanlan for her contribution to this article. Should you have any questions, please contact Tom Bracken.Read More
PIP Coverage is Subject to Full Payment in NJ
In a recent New Jersey Appellate Division decision, the court ruled on the application of the statutorily mandated PIP limits. Birmingham v. Travelers New Jersey Ins. Co., 2023 WL 2719287 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2023). In Birmingham v. Travelers New Jersey Ins, the insurer Travelers appealed the lower court’s decision to enforce Traveler’s obligation to provided PIP coverage with no reduction of the deductibles or copay obligations.
Both insureds sustained injuries in separate automobile accidents and sought PIP coverage from Travelers to cover medical expenses. Travelers issued policies to both insureds including a $15,000 PIP coverage with a $2,500 deductible and a 20% percent copayment obligation. Travelers later provided PIP coverage to both insureds, reducing the coverage amount by the respective deductibles and copay obligations.
Court noted that “nothing in the policies’ declaration pages, coverage grants or exclusions clearly communicated to either plaintiff that their statutorily mandated PIP limits of liability in either policy would be reduced by the amount of their chosen deductibles.” The lack of clarity resulted in the court’s decision that Travelers was obligated to pay the full limit of coverage with no reduction.
Specifically, Travelers instructed its insured under the “Limits of Liability” provision in the PIP section of the policy that “any amounts payable for medical expense benefits as a result of any one accident shall be: [r]educed by the $250 statutory deductible” or shall be “reduced only by the optional deductible” and are “[s]ubject to a copayment of [twenty percent] for the amount between the deductible that applies and $5,000.” However, the court was not convinced that such language alone was sufficient in informing the insureds that the limit of liability will be impaired.
Thanks to Yifan Lin for her contribution to this post. Please contact Heather Aquino with any questions.Read More