Insurance Company May Fight Underinsured Motorist Claims in North Carolina

For as much as car insurance firms extol their corporate virtues of being “on your side” or keeping in “in good hands,” when it comes to paying out underinsured motorist claims in Charlotte, chances are, you’re in for a fight.
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This is true even when the facts of the case appear to show a fairly straightforward account of events, all pointing to significant plaintiff injury and liability on the part of the insurance company’s client.

A great recent example of this is Rawls v. Progressive N. Ins. Co., reviewed early this month by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

To understand why this case was brought in the first case, we first have to understand underinsured motorist coverage. In North Carolina, as in many other states, motorists are required to keep a certain level of liability insurance in order to legally drive. However, you get what you pay for. Cheaper insurance means less coverage if that person is in an accident.

Often collisions result in substantial injuries or even death where the insurance policy held by the at-fault driver doesn’t cover all the damages. In these instances, injured parties and survivors of the deceased may file a claim against their own insurance company for underinsured motorist coverage.

That’s what happened in the Rawls case. According to court documents, the crash occurred in the spring of 2006. According to the plaintiff, he was sitting at a red traffic light, behind another vehicle, when he was struck from behind by a vehicle, the force of which caused him to strike the car in front of him.

In explaining what had occurred, the plaintiff noted that he did not actually see what happened. He heard a noise, felt the impact and “blacked out” for several minutes. When he regained consciousness, he was covered with glass. His head was aching.

In speaking to the responding officer on the scene, the plaintiff said he hadn’t seen the other driver before impact. He didn’t know in which direction the other driver was looking or how fast he was traveling and he didn’t know whether the other driver had applied his brakes or tried to swerve prior to impact.

He saw that the back of his vehicle was “destroyed” and the front of his car was “heavily damaged.”

The police officer on scene noted that the road was flat and wide. The weather was clear. There were not other factors that would have contributed to the crash.

The plaintiff in his lawsuit alleged negligence by the offending driver and also sought damages from his own insurance company under underinsured motorist liability coverage. He indicated that his serious injuries were the result of the other driver following too closely, failing to keep a proper and reasonable look-out, failing to apply his brakes in time to avoid a crash, failing to swerve in order to avoid a crash, failing to keep his vehicle under proper and reasonable control, traveling at an unreasonably high rate of speed and being inattentive to his surroundings.

To support his claim, the plaintiff presented photographs, a police report and his own testimony.

After the plaintiff presented his case to the jury, the insurance company moved for a summary judgment, arguing that there wasn’t any evidence submitted from which a jury could reasonably conclude that the other driver was negligent and that his negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. All that was proven, the insurance firm asserted, was that there had been a rear-collision crash. The company claimed that any assertion that the other driver was distracted or at-fault was speculation or conjecture.

The trial court denied this motion, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding $52,000 in damages.

The insurance company appealed. The appellate court found that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant a summary judgment because the plaintiff had failed to show enough evidence to prove negligence and proximate cause.

The state supreme court, however, reversed this decision. In siding with the plaintiff, the high court found that there was enough circumstantial evidence to support the plaintiff’s claim, even if his first-hand knowledge of the facts were hazy.

Car accident victims can’t be expected to note every singular detail in the aftermath of such a traumatizing and injurious event. Had the court sided with the insurance firm in this case, it would have set a dangerous precedent that might have held car accident victims to an impossibly high standard.

If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Rawls v. Progressive N. Ins. Co., Jan. 7, 2014, Connecticut Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Motor Vehicle Accidents on the Rise in NC, Jan. 3, 2014, Charlotte Car Accident Injury Lawyer Blog

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