Monday, March 25, 2019

Congratulations to our Attorneys on their Recent Court of Special Appeals Win!

Representing Erie Insurance Exchange, Partner Tara Taylor and Associate Rima Kikani recently won an appeal in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in James Trautwein v. Erie Insurance Exchange

This matter stemmed from an October 2013 low-impact motor vehicle collision in which the Appellant was rear-ended by the at-fault driver. After seeking treatment for nearly four years and accumulating more than $100,000.00 in special damages, Appellant sued his insurer, Erie Insurance Exchange, seeking underinsured motorist benefits. Erie conceded that Mr. Trautwein sustained minor sprains and strains as a result of the collision, but the parties disputed the extent and permanency of the injuries.

At trial, the Appellant moved in limine to exclude evidence of seven other prior and subsequent injuries he had suffered, arguing that the lack of expert testimony connecting the other collisions to his present injuries rendered the evidence irrelevant and prejudicial. Erie opposed the exclusion, contending that its expert opined that Appellant’s present injuries were not related to the 2013 motor vehicle accident, but a result of pre-existing degenerative conditions, which may have stemmed from the other seven injuries. Siding with Erie, the trial court admitted evidence of Appellant’s seven prior and subsequent injuries. At the end of trial, Appellant requested damages in excess of $100,000.00. The jury awarded him $28,598.86.

Appellant appealed the judgment to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, arguing that the trial court improperly admitted evidence of his prior and subsequent injuries because the evidence was irrelevant, or alternatively, substantially and unfairly prejudiced him—as seen by the jury’s low award. Erie argued that the trial court properly admitted the evidence because it provided a basis for Appellant’s pre-existing degenerative condition, but even if the court erred, it committed harmless error because Appellant, in his own testimony, conceded to suffering from pre-existing degenerative diseases—which also would have allowed the jury to reach the same verdict.

Affirming the decision of the trial court, the Court of Special Appeals decided that the seven prior and subsequent injuries were relevant to the matter because evidence of other trauma had relevance in explaining the source of the degeneration and supplied the basis for the expert opinion that the Appellant’s damages were not attributable to the 2013 collision. The Court also held that the trial court acted within its discretion in deciding that the probative value of the other injuries was not substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice to the Appellant. 

RSRM congratulates Ms. Taylor and Ms. Kikani on this win! 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Maryland’s New Stacking Law: Enhanced UIM Coverage

Insurance companies doing business in Maryland must offer an Enhanced UIM policy to drivers that will provide greater protections in situations where an at-fault driver does not have insurance or is underinsured. This new type of coverage is intended to bridge a “gap” that exists when an insured driver is injured by another, and that insured driver attempts to utilize the full benefits of his or her own UIM coverage.

Historically, Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage was intended to help protect insureds injured by negligent drivers who were either uninsured or underinsured. In the situation where an at-fault driver’s insurance coverage was insufficient to pay an injured person’s damages in full, the injured person’s UIM coverage kicked in to provide compensation to the accident victim. The injured person could only recover damages within his/her UIM coverage limits. 

For example, an injured insured has UIM coverage limits of $100,000.00 and the at-fault driver has the minimum required coverage in Maryland of $30,000.00. If the medical expenses, lost wages, and non-economic damages total to $200,000.00, the injured insured would only be able to receive $100,000.00 of compensation ($30,000.00 from the at-fault driver’s liability policy and $70,000.00 from the injured insured’s UIM policy).  Under the new law, the injured insured’s compensation would be capped at $130,000.00.  The injured insured would be able to receive the full 100,000.00 of his/her UIM policy.

Insurance companies are now required to offer this to new policy holders who have purchased insurance after July 2018.  Currently, insurance companies do not have to offer it to an insured who is renewing his/her policy.  In the case of an insured renewing his/her policy, he/she would have to opt-in to the EUIM.

This enhanced UIM coverage is offered to private motor vehicle insurance policies, which includes motorcycle policies, but does not apply to commercial insurance policies.

-Tara McDowell, Associate Attorney