As a “fault” car insurance state, North Carolina adheres to the philosophy that the at-fault party and/or his insurer will ultimately be responsible for paying the damages. Injured parties might initially file a claim with their own insurer, but that insurer will then seek reimbursement from the other party’s insurance.
The process can become a bit more complicated when the at-fault party has no insurance. In these cases, injured drivers may seek compensation from the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage in their own policies, assuming they have paid for them. (North Carolina requires all drivers to carry uninsured motorist coverage, while underinsured motorist coverage may only be required if you carry minimum coverage on your base policy.)
Charlotte car accident lawyers recognize that when claims aren’t made in a timely or proper manner, injured drivers and passengers may lose out on the opportunity to collect compensation. This was the unfortunate outcome for the plaintiffs in Davis v. Urquiza, a matter recently before the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
According to court records, the case unfolded in mid-July 2009. A teenager was a passenger in a vehicle that was struck by another vehicle, operated by the defendant. On May 31, 2012, the teen and her parents filed a lawsuit against the defendant, seeking compensation for personal injuries resulting from the crash. This was just barely inside the three-year statute of limitations window.
The defendant in this case was an uninsured motorist. The plaintiffs contended that the North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company was responsible for providing uninsured motorist coverage to them, per N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-279.21(b)(3). They further contended that National Grange Insurance Company should provide them with uninsured motorist coverage as well.
In early June, the plaintiff’s attorney mailed a copy of the summons and complaint to a claims adjuster at the Farm Bureau by certified mail. The agency responded with defenses that included insufficiency of process and service, as well as the claim being filed outside the statute of limitations. The agency claimed the notice was sent to a person who was not and had never been an officer or managing agent of the firm. Rather, he was a claims adjuster. Representatives filed a motion to dismiss.
Another notice was sent to the agency’s commissioner, but that wasn’t received until January 2013.
In March, the trial court granted the defense motion to dismiss the claim with prejudice, giving merit to the defense’s claim.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed.
The justices indicated that mere notice is not sufficient. Defendant insurance firms have to be formally served with process. There are a number of ways in which this can be done, including delivery of the summons directly to an officer, director or managing agent. The plaintiff failed in this regard, as the complaint was sent to the wrong person.
By the time the plaintiff did send proper notice to the correct individual, the statute of limitations had already passed, the justices determined.
These are the kind of technical mistakes that plaintiffs can avoid by choosing to hire an attorney with experience.
Contact the North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices in Charlotte by calling 800-887-1965.
Davis v. Urquiza, April 15, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals
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Dram Shop Verdict in Favor of Plaintiff Overturned on Technicality, May 29, 2014, Charlotte Car Accident Lawyer Blog