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Wood v. Wood – Suing a Family Member After an Auto Accident

Even with Florida’s no-fault auto insurance system, it’s common for those injured in a traffic accident to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver or other responsible parties. This occurs when damages and costs for injuries exceed a certain amount.

Occasionally, it becomes necessary for crash victims to take legal action against close friends, relatives or even spouses.

That whole notion strikes nerve with people, many of whom insist they don’t want to be in a court battle with someone they love. However, what’s important to keep in mind is these actions are truly not personal. Rather, taking this route is sometimes the only way a person who is injured can recover the necessary insurance benefits to which they are entitled. But individuals can’t sue an insurance company directly for an insured’s wrongdoing. Insurers are only added to the action later, once liability has been established.

In Wood v. Wood, a case recently considered by the Maine Supreme Court, a wife who was injured while a passenger on a motorcycle operated by her husband filed a lawsuit against her husband, alleging negligence.

According to the court records, neither side disputes that wife was a passenger and husband was the operator on a motorcycle when there was an accident caused by husband’s negligence that resulted in wife’s injuries. At the time, both husband and wife were named as insureds on the same motorcycle insurance policy.

One provision of that policy indicated that insurer would pay necessary medical services for motor vehicle accident injuries sustained by an injured person and caused by an auto accident. The insurer reserved the right to determine whether expenses for medical services were reasonable and whether they are necessary.

Pursuant to the policy, as an insured, wife had $5,000 in coverage for medical payments. A total of seven payments was made by insurer to medical providers, totaling more than $5,600.

Later, wife filed a motorcycle accident lawsuit against husband alleging one count of negligence in connection with the accident. In so doing, she would be able to collect on the liability portion of the policy.

Jurors at trial returned a verdict finding husband was negligent and awarding wife $50,000 in total damages. Defendant husband (represented by insurer’s legal team) later moved to amend the judgment to account for the $5,600 in prejudgment payments that had already been made. Wife, meanwhile, sought payment of prejudgment interest and other costs. The court approved both requests. Wife appealed with regard to the prejudgment payment.

She argued the trial court erred in interpreting state law, which indicates no payments by any person or insurer on account of bodily injury or death or loss of property should constitute as an admission of liability or waiver of defense, and allows that payment to be applied to a credit toward a future judgment only if five specific conditions are met.

Specifically, while defense argued it should be credited that $5,600, plaintiff argued the prepayments were for medical expenses she was owed pursuant to her own policy. Therefore, they weren’t issued pursuant to her husband’s policy. That would mean, she argued, the payments were placed outside the scope of that particular law. The superior court determined the prepayments should apply to the final judgment regardless of whether the payments were made pursuant to the husband’s liability and his wife’s medical coverage.

The state supreme court disagreed. Trial court never made a finding with regard to whether that $5,600 payment was for liability or health coverage. That fact needed to be settled before the issue could be decided. The earlier ruling on the case was reversed and the case remanded for resolution of this issue.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Wood v. Wood, Nov. 3, 2015, Maine Supreme Judicial Court

More Blog Entries:

British Tourist Killed by South Florida Hit-and-Run Driver, Oct. 24, 2015, Broward Car Accident Attorney Blog

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