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Trust But Not Verified: Is your insurance company being upfront?
I. Fighting With Your Own Insurance
If an insurance company hires an attorney represent you: can you be sure that the attorney is actually representing your best interests, and not the auto insurance company? No one should ever “assume” that their auto insurance carrier is going to protect all of your interests after an accident. Unfortunately, no matter how great the personal relationship with individual salespeople from the insurance company, dealing with the corporate levels of an insurance company is often a whole different story. Unfortunately, it’s often a story of misplaced trust; trust, that can get abused, by delaying independent legal advice, even in the crucial first week or two after an accident.
In practical terms, seeking an early and free consultation with an experienced Charlotte car accident lawyer, before being bound to the company attorney, will help you better prepare for every legal possibility. Let’s look at one auto accident, where the insurance company, claiming to best represent its client, was not the same as having your own Charlotte car accident lawyer. You might even say the company tried to be judge and jury in deciding the outcome.
II. “Duty To Defend”
A North Carolina man, Doyle B., had purchased coverage for the family Cadillac. The policy covered both Doyle and his wife, Colleen. Colleen was the driver that October day, when a collision with another vehicle occurred. The driver and passenger in the other car were hurt, and the driver later filed a suit against Doyle and Colleen for injuries. Under the terms of Doyle’s policy with the insurance company, the insurance company notified Doyle and Colleen that they would hire an attorney to represent “them.” But the insurance company never took the case to court. The attorney for the insurance company later “gave his opinion that the couple probably would be found liable.” On the basis of this opinion, the insurance company attorney predicted a jury verdict of almost three times the coverage limits. Based on this, the insurance company offered final judgment. The injured driver rejected that offer, and came back with a counteroffer. This allowed the insurance company to pay its policy limit, and leave the couple liable for the rest of the injuries. This also meant that the insurance company was no longer going to represent the insured couple. At this point, the couple realized they really had needed their own expert Charlotte car accident lawyer to represent their interests.
III. Minding Your Own Business, With Your Own Attorney
It’s important to remember that not every ‘duty to defend’ in an insurance company agreement is going to be the same language or wording. Some will have better standards and protections for going to court than others. There are also unwritten corporate policies that may or may not tend to favor you as a client. These variations in wording and meaning are why you should only work with an experienced Charlotte car accident lawyer. You should be sure to have a Charlotte car accident lawyer who has worked not only with the specific insurance company you’re dealing with (their corporate policy), but also knows the language being used. Similarly, courts in North Carolina may also vary in how they have interpreted this language. In this case, for example, Doyle B. actually had lost the first effort to force the insurance company to have defended his case, at the trial court level. His experienced Charlotte car accident lawyer immediately filed an appeal: and won at the Court of Appeals. The insurance company pushed back, and appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court… where Doyle’s Charlotte car accident lawyer again won the argument that the insurer needed to have really defended the couple.
Having noted the win for the couple, let’s now look at the specific
‘duty to defend’ language in this case. You can see that although it seems fairly clear, it took an experienced Charlotte car accident lawyer to win the case.
“We will pay damages for bodily injury or property damage for which any covered person becomes legal responsible because of an auto accident. We will settle or defend, as we consider appropriate, any claim or suit asking for these damages. In addition to our limit of liability, we will pay all defense costs we incur. Our duty to settle or defend ends when our limit of liability for this coverage has been exhausted.”
IV. Fighting Words: Have An Expert on Your Side
This case was a fascinating glimpse in the how auto accident law works best: when you have an expert. The Charlotte car accident lawyer, and not the insurer, in this case insisted that there were major design, construction and assembly issues related to the brake system on the couples insured Cadillac. While this possible auto safety design issue appeared not to have mattered that much the insurance company, it had major impact on Doyle and Colleen’s possible liability for the accident. So, when the trial court decided that summary judgment was appropriate, the Charlotte car accident lawyer was in a good position to argue on appeal that the insurance company had not done enough to investigate all of the facts behind the accident. The Court of Appeals agreed with the Charlotte car accident lawyer, reversed the ruling, and ordered a new hearing on the case. That court agreed that the insurance company had an absolute duty to defend, but that the language in the provision was actually ambiguous. Once reaching this decision, the Charlotte car accident lawyer could argued persuasively that the person who designed the contract (the insurance company), should not be able to benefit from any ambiguity in interpreting it.
Many of the problems described above were supposed to be dealt with as people were required to buy auto insurance. As happens, still too often, it may take a Charlotte car accident lawyer to be sure that your insurance company is actually aggressively defending you right after an accident. This can be done initially by a free consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer.
If you, a family member or a loved one have been hurt in a vehicle accident—or have questions about insurance claims or need help related to a motor vehicle insurance policy, or involving related claims or your legal rights or hearings, please contact us. You will speak with a Charlotte car accident lawyer who can best answer your questions. There is never a fee for this initial consultation.
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