IT MAY NOT BE TOO LATE…MARYLAND APPELLATE COURT CLARIFIES STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS IN UNDERINSURED MOTORIST ACTION

This post was authored by Brian Nash and posted to The Eye Opener on January 13th, 2010.

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Earlier this month, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals clarified what events trigger the statute of limitations, in determining how long an injured plaintiff in an automobile collision in Maryland has to file an underinsured motorist claim, in Pfeifer v. Phoenix Insurance Company.

Ms. Pfeifer was involved in an automobile accident in Baltimore City, Maryland on February 12, 2003.  The at-fault insurance company offered their liability policy limits in October of 2004, and, in accordance with applicable law, Ms. Pfeifer requested permission from the underinsured motorist (UIM) carrier, Phoenix Insurance Company, to accept the at-fault carrier’s policy limits.  This request occurred on October 13, 2004, and Phoenix subsequently granted permission for Ms. Pfeifer to accept the policy limits.  Ms. Pfeifer then sought to collect compensation for her injuries under the UIM automobile insurance coverage of the owner of the vehicle she was driving (Phoenix Insurance Company) at the time the collision occurred.  Ms. Pfeifer’s UIM lawsuit was filed on July 10, 2006.

The law in Maryland regarding the statute of limitations, or legal deadline, in regard to a civil action, states the following:

“A civil action at law shall be filed within three years from the date it accrues.”—Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code Section 5-101

Accordingly, Phoenix argued that since the UIM lawsuit was filed more than three years after the date of the incident giving rise to the UIM lawsuit, that the claim should be dismissed.  However, as a case of ‘first-impression,’ the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held:

The statute of limitations in an underinsured motorist contract action for damages does not begin to run until, at the earliest, the date on which exhaustion of the tortfeasor’s coverage occurs.  A breach of contract, triggering the statute of limitations, can only occur after the underinsured motorist carrier denies further coverage.

Since the UIM action did not ‘accrue’ until Ms. Pfeifer settled with the tortfeasor in October of 2004, and the UIM lawsuit was filed within three years of that date (July 10, 2006), the Court held that Ms. Pfeifer’s suit was timely filed.

As always, Nash and Associates, LLC welcomes the opportunity to speak with injured victims of automobile accidents who have been seriously injured by uninsured or underinsured motorists.  Keep in mind that the facts of each case require proper analysis as to whether a cause of action exists and whether or not the statute of limitations may be a bar to your recovery. Remember also, even if another lawyer does not take your case, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have one!

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