Choosing Massachusetts Automobile Insurance

Boston residents should choose their Massachusetts car insurance carefully. “There is more to choosing car insurance than just the cost,” says Boston car accident attorney Neil Burns, “you must also conisder who you are protecting in case of a car accident.” Take the recent case of Wagenmaker v. Amica Mutual Insurance Co. (Lawyers Weekly No. 01-079-10) (3 pages) (Per Curiam) (1st Cirtcuit). In that case, the passenger in a vehicle was involved in accident when the car she was travelling in was struck by an unidentified vehicle. This type of car accident is commonly known as a hit and run.

The passenger was injured in the accident, and sought to sue the driver’s insurance company because the other vehicle, though at fault in the accident, was not identified. Thus, the passenger sought uninsured motorist benefits under a policy issued by Amica Insurance since they covered the owner of the car in which the plaintiff was a passenger.

But Amica denied the claim. The Court found that Amica was right in denying the passenger’s claim because the owner of the vehicle had cancelled his uninsured motorist coverage some nine months before the accident. “… The change was reflected in the policy’s amended declarations page, which clearly indicated that the car was ‘NOT COVERED’ for damages by an uninsured driver.”

The passenger tried to argue that “the declaration means nothing. She points to the boilerplate terms of the policy, which provide that [defendant] Amica will pay any damages that a passenger in a ‘covered auto’ is entitled to collect from an uninsured driver. She quotes the definition of ‘covered auto’ as ‘[a]ny vehicle shown in the Declarations,’ notes that [the driver’s] car is identified in the amended declarations, and says ‘it is of no consequence whether Mr. Vitone canceled the uninsured motorist coverage’: an automobile specifically designated on the declarations page as ‘NOT COVERED’ with respect to a particular category of insurance is nonetheless a ‘covered auto’ as to that same category.

The Court held that the passenger’s above-noted theory was wrong because her “position ignores the law of contract: ‘the rights and liabilities of the parties to an insurance contract are to be ascertained in accordance with the terms as set forth therein,’ Nat’l Refrigeration, Inc. v. Travelers Indem. Co., 947 A.2d 906, 909 (R.I. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted), and like any contract, an insurance policy is to be read as a whole.

Thus, there was no insurance available for the injured passenger because the owner of the vehicle had cancelled the appropriate insurance before the car accident. Choose your auto insurance wisely, or else those injured when you are driving may not be able to recover against the insurance company for their injuries.