January 6, 2014

washington-dc-baltimore-maryland-virginia-car-accident-auto-crash-lawyerIn a recent case decided by the D.C. Court of Appeals, the passenger of a car that was in an accident in New Jersey sued the driver of the car and the driver’s insurer for failure to pay Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. PIP benefits are state laws that usually provide compensation for some medical expenses, lost wages, death and funeral expenses, and essential services. According to a 2012 New Jersey case, the “goal of PIP is to provide prompt medical treatment of those who have been injured in automobile accidents without having that treatment delayed because of payment disputes.”[1]

Locally, Maryland provides mandatory PIP coverage unless a waiver is signed when the insurance policy is originally purchased. There is no mandatory PIP coverage law in Virginia or Washington, D.C.

In the New Jersey case, the injured passenger unfortunately did not name the driver’s insurer as a defendant in her lawsuit initially. Under New Jersey law, injured persons generally have two years to file a PIP claim and sadly, the passenger did not file her PIP claim within this two-year period.

The injured passenger added the PIP claim against the driver’s insurance in an amended complaint and argued that the new PIP claim should “relate back” to the original claim. “Relation back” is a legal doctrine holding that an act done at a later time us deemed by law to have occurred at an earlier time. This doctrine is used when, for instance, a document is held in escrow and delivered at a later time. The law can treat the delivery date as the date the document was put into escrow.

The driver’s insurer was not put on notice of a possible lawsuit by the passenger’s original lawsuit against the driver. In a previous case, the D.C. Court of Appeals noted that claims may be allowed to relate back where there was a mistake of fact (mistaken identity or name of defendant), but not where the plaintiff had a mistake of law.[2] The injured passenger sued the driver for negligence – a claim which would not have been brought against the insurance company, so according to the Court, the insurance company had no reason to think it would be sued for this accident. Additionally, the injured passenger was speaking with the insurance company directly about PIP benefits and the Court reasoned this shows that the injured passenger was aware of PIP benefits and could have originally sued to seek these benefits.

Unfortunately for this injured passenger, she was not able to obtain PIP benefits from the insurance company because the claim was not filed in time. Seeking and obtaining benefits like PIP is one issue, of many, for which an experienced personal injury attorney can help you after an accident. At The Cochran Firm, our attorneys are experienced and knowledgeable of insurance benefit laws and can help you successfully seek the greatest compensation possible for your injury. As this case shows, there are important statute of limitations deadlines that you must meet in order to bring a claim. This is why we recommend you contact us as soon as possible after an accident.

The case referenced in this blog post was Onyeneho v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 12-CV-1768 (D.C. Nov. 14, 2013).

[1] Selective Ins. Co. of Am. v. Hudson E. Pain Mgmt. Osteopathic Med. and Physical Therapy, 46 A.3d 1272, 1279 (N.J. 2012).

[2] Zuurbier v. Medstar Health, Inc., 895 A.2d 905, 909 n. 8 (D.C. 2006)