By: Matthew Tievsky
Victims of negligence in auto accidents won an important victory before
Maryland's high court, the Court of Appeals, in the recent decision
of Brethren Mutual Insurance Company v. Buckley. In this case, Brethren
provided what is called "underinsured motorist" ("UIM")
coverage, to its customer, Buckley. When a person (like Buckley) is hurt
by a negligent driver in an automobile collision, but the negligent driver
has too little insurance to cover the victim's injuries, the victim
can make a claim on his UIM policy (if he purchased one) to cover the
gap in insurance. Furthermore, under Maryland statutes, if the wrongdoer
offers to pay the victim the full amount of the wrongdoer's insurance
policy, the victim can accept this money, and still continue to pursue
a claim against the UIM carrier, if the UIM carrier consents to the settlement.
That is what Buckley did in this case, as Brethren consented. Buckley then
signed a "release" with the wrongdoer, in which Buckley promised
not to sue the wrongdoer or anyone else for the automobile collision.
The obvious understanding was that Buckley promised not to sue other drivers,
while leaving his claim against Brethren intact. That, after all, is what
the Maryland statutes are designed to allow. However, Brethren argued
that Buckley had accidentally given up his claim against everyone else
including the UIM carrier, by signing the release.
Fortunately, the Court of Appeals unanimously sided with Buckley. The Court
held that, interpreting the release in light of the Maryland statutes,
the purpose of the release was to allow Buckley to continue his claim
against Brethren, not to stop him. This decision signals that Maryland
courts will not allow insurance companies to take advantage of technicalities
to avoid paying auto accident claims to their own customers.
If you have any questions about how your own insurance policy covers you
following an auto accident, you should contact the Maryland personal injury
attorneys at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C.