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Massachusetts Appellate Court Says Car Accident Litigants Had No Right to Contribution from Particular Insurance Company

Some Cape Cod car accident lawsuits involve more claims and/or more parties than others. In a “routine” case, the plaintiff seeks compensation from the defendant, or, in actuality, from the defendant’s insurance company. If the fault in the accident was not clear, the defendant may file a counterclaim against the plaintiff (and, by extension, the plaintiff’s insurance company).

There are sometimes cases, however, in which there are other parties and even other insurance companies involved. One example of this might be a case in which one or more of the parties was driving a vehicle that did not belong to them and was, thus, insured by a liability insurance company other than the plaintiff’s or the defendant’s.

In such a situation, it is possible that there could be coverage for the accident from more than one insurance company. The question of which company ultimately pays the verdict, or how the verdict should be allocated between them, may arise at some point in the litigation.

Facts of the Case

In a recent unreported case, the plaintiffs were the personal representative of a man who died in a 2014 car accident and the automobile dealership that owned the vehicle in which the decedent was riding at the time of the crash. The decedent was allegedly under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident in question; a passenger was also killed in the crash. In their complaint against the defendant liability insurance company, the plaintiffs alleged that the insurance company had engaged in unfair and deceptive business and insurance settlement practices in violation of Massachusetts General Laws chs. 93A and 176D, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. All of the legal theories upon which the plaintiffs relied were based on their allegation that they had been deprived of their right to contribution from a joint tortfeasor.

The trial court dismissed the complaint pursuant to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), holding that the plaintiffs had no right to contribution and, thus, could not establish that they had been harmed by the insurance company’s conduct.

The Opinion of the Court Considering the Appeal

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling dismissing the plaintiffs’ claim. The court first noted that claims for contribution were governed by statute in Massachusetts, specifically by the Uniform Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasors Act. Under this statute, a joint tortfeasor was entitled to contribution when he, she, or it paid more than a pro rata share of damages under a settlement or judgment. Actual payment of more than the claimant’s share of the common liability is a prerequisite to a successful claim for contribution.

Here, the plaintiffs did not pay anything towards the common liability. Insomuch as they could not show the harm required under the statute, the plaintiffs’ claim failed. In the court’s view, the plaintiffs had claimed to have lost a right that, in actuality, did not belong to them. Thus, the lower court had properly dismissed their suit, in the reviewing tribunal’s opinion.

To Seek the Advice of an Injury Lawyer in Cape Cod

If you need help with a car accident case in the Plymouth or Hyannis areas, please contact the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III at 888-262-6664. Please keep in mind that motor vehicle accident lawsuits are subject to a strict statute of limitations and claims not timely filed may be forfeited.

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