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Appellate Tribunal Explores New York Law with Respect to Supplemental Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (SUM) Insurance Coverage

In evaluating the potential value of a Syracuse car accident claim, there are several considerations. What were the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s physical injuries? How much were his or her medical expenses? What about lost wages or loss of future income due to permanent disability?

These factors help inform the value of the plaintiff’s claim. However, putting a reasonable dollar amount on a case does not necessarily mean that the plaintiff will receive a check for that amount, even if there is a jury verdict in favor of him or her.

Other factors, including the limits of the negligent driver’s liability insurance policy, are also important. What if the plaintiff’s case is worth more than the defendant’s liability limits? While there may sometimes be the possibility of collecting against the defendant’s personal assets or future income, the more realistic place to look for coverage for the difference is the plaintiff’s uninsured or underinsured motorist insurance coverage, assuming that such coverage exists.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case arising in the Supreme Court of Erie County, the plaintiff was a man who was involved in a motor vehicle accident that was caused by the negligence of another driver, who rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff had in effect a policy of supplemental uninsured/underinsured motorist (SUM) insurance which he had purchased from the defendant insurance company. The policy limits of the plaintiff’s SUM policy were $300,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. The plaintiff settled his negligence case against the at-fault motorist for $100,000, which was the per-person policy limits of the motorist’s automobile accident liability insurance policy.

Thereafter, the plaintiff sought to recover additional monies from the defendant, but the defendant denied the plaintiff’s claim on the ground that SUM coverage had not been “triggered” under the circumstances. The plaintiff filed suit, seeking a declaration concerning the defendant’s obligation to provide SUM benefits following the accident. The trial court granted a motion to dismiss filed by the defendant pursuant to N.Y. C.P.L.R. 3211(a)(1). The plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, Fourth Department, reversed the lower court’s ruling, directing that the defendant’s motion be denied, and the plaintiff’s complaint be reinstated. Under New York Insurance Law ยง 3420(f)(2), a driver may, through SUM coverage, seek to obtain the same level of protection for himself as he has against liability toward others. Under this law, SUM coverage is triggered “when the limit of the insured’s bodily injury liability coverage is greater than the same coverage in the tortfeasor’s policy.”

Here, the plaintiff’s SUM coverage was three times that of the at-fault driver’s liability coverage. Thus, SUM coverage was triggered in the reviewing court’s view.

Speak to an Attorney in Syracuse About Your Car Accident Case

Pursuing fair compensation following a Syracuse car accident case be an difficult endeavor, even when the defendant is your own insurance company. It sometimes comes as a surprise to those who have faithfully paid their premiums for years when their uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage carrier denies their claim or refuses to make anywhere near a reasonable offer to settle the case. If you need advice about UM, UIM, or SUM coverage or about a New York car accident case in general, the attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP are here to help. Phone us at 315-479-9000 or use the “contact us” link on this website to set up an appointment to discuss your case.

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