Occasionally, the attorneys of RSRM are called upon to defend a subrogation suit that is brought by an insurance carrier and its insured in an attempt to recover money paid by that carrier to its insured pursuant to the applicable policy of insurance between the two. Often, the suit also attempts to collect any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the insured that were not covered by the insurance policy, usually the insured’s deductible.
With little exception, the sums paid by the insurance carrier to its insured in a given subrogation suit are based upon property damage only, as is the deductible paid by the insured pursuant to the policy. Because of this, it is often possible to file a Motion to Compel Arbitration with the court, which will result in the case being dismissed in order to allow for that arbitration.
Maryland Ins. Code Ann. § 19-514 requires that “authorized insurers that issue, sell or deliver motor vehicle liability or physical damage insurance policies in the State shall arbitrate and settle all motor vehicle physical damage claims between the authorized insurers in accordance with an automobile subrogation program sponsored by the intercompany arbitration organization chosen by the authorized insurer that requests arbitration.” (Emphasis added). What this means, from a practical perspective, is that if both the plaintiff insurance carrier and the carrier for the defendant are signatories to an Inter-Company Arbitration Agreement, and the basis of the claim is property damage only, then the two carriers must submit the matter to binding arbitration. In Maryland, many insurance carriers are signatories to such an Agreement, which is maintained and administered by Arbitration Forums, Inc.
When the attorneys of RSRM first receive a new subrogation suit assignment from a given carrier, the first step taken is to ascertain whether the suit is based on a recovery of damages stemming from property damage only. If it is, the next step taken is to determine whether the carriers involved are signatories to an Inter-Company Arbitration Agreement. If they are, the next step is to file a Motion to Compel Arbitration along with the typical Answer to the Complaint. Although a hearing may be scheduled by the court, the ultimate result will almost always be the dismissal of the case before it barely gets off the ground.
Over the past year, the attorneys are RSRM have employed this tactic with great success, at both the District and Circuit Court levels. A number of reasons exist to warrant forcing a case out of court and into binding inter-company arbitration, not the least of which is the fact that arbitration is a much faster, simpler and less expensive way to resolve the dispute. The “human” element is also a significant factor. It is almost always in the insured’s best interests to have the matter arbitrated, which will obviate the need for the insured to participate in the litigation process, which can often be a lengthy, time consuming and frustrating process. For example, in lieu of live testimony by the insured, a recorded statement can be submitted. In place of the discovery responses and document production typical to a given litigation, an adjuster’s claims file and investigative materials can be submitted.
Ultimately, in claims involving property damage only, it is almost always preferable to submit the matter to binding arbitration than to resolve the matter through litigation. A significant amount of time and expense, including legal fees, can be saved by the carrier, and the insured will certainly appreciate not being “dragged into court.”
Article contributed by James Buck