Personal Injury Blog

In New Decision, Maryland Court of Appeals Protects the Rights of Seriously Injured Auto Accident Victims

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.