Articles Posted in Insurance Coverage

The parents of Sherena Hundalani, 26, are fighting for justice after their daughter was tragically killed by a taxi in Queens, New York. Hundalani was standing on a sidewalk in front of a Mobil Station on February 24, 2019, waiting to cross the street, when a taxi struck her from behind, dragged her underneath the car, and then fled the scene. Hundalani was taken to a hospital before she later succumbed to her injuries. The taxi’s driver, Lakhvinder Singh, was questioned by police and claimed that the vehicle malfunctioned before he was then released without having any charges pressed against him. The case is still being investigated.

The suit, which names City of New York, the Department of Transportation, and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, alleges that Singh was using the Mobil station as an illegal turnaround at the time of the incident, a common practice among taxi drivers in that location. Hundalani’s parents, Prakash and Bina, claim that the various city agencies were aware of the dangerous conditions that led to their daughter’s death and allowed them to continue. “We are devastated beyond words by the loss of our beautiful Sherena,” they expressed. “We are grateful to so many friends who have supported us and expressed their love for our daughter, but there must be accountability when an innocent young woman is killed by a taxi licensed by the City of New York while standing on the sidewalk of all places.”

Though the Hundalani’s are seeking $25 million in damages, an outrageous New York taxi and limousine regulation is potentially standing in their way. That is, under current New York City law, insurance payouts for those injured or killed by a standard taxi or limousine are limited to $100,000 per person, $300,000, per accident, $200,000 in personal injury protection, and $10,000 in property damage. As a result, the city’s streets and sidewalks are being opened to reckless, unlicensed, and underinsured bicyclists as well as underinsured taxis and limousines who face very little threat of legal or financial consequences following a crash.

A bill that claims to lower Louisiana’s auto insurance rates has passed through the state’s House of Representatives following a vote of 69-30. House Bill 372, proposed by Rep. Kirk Talbot, is based on the purported fact that Louisiana ranks as having the second-highest auto insurance rates in the United States. The cause, according to Talbot, is the increasing number of car crashes and, consequently, increased expenses for the insurance companies who are thus forced to raise their rates. In reality, the bill is nothing more than a scheme to bolster the wealth of insurance companies and gain their political support, all the while presenting the enticing disguise to Louisiana residents that their insurance rates will be radically reduced.

Talbot’s bill, also known as the “Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2019”, proposes an insurance carrier wishlist of way to save money on claims without any reduction in insurance premium costs. The first of which is to increase the prescriptive period for filing suit from one to two years. This change would certainly reduce lawsuits (as our neighbors in Texas and Mississippi have at least two years to file suit). In doing so, the bill encourages lengthened legal negotiations following automotive incidents resulting in a greater number of settlements and, therefore, reduced court costs. In a similar vein, the bill also reduces the jury threshold from the previous 50,000-dollar minimum to a mere 5,000 dollars, theoretically dissuading attorneys from taking cases to court, and again, resulting in reduced court costs. Talbot also puts forward the idea of limiting the amount of recoverable medical expenses following a car crash to that amount that is paid by the health insurance company rather than the amount billed. Lastly, Talbot wants to change the law so the insurance companies can no longer be defendants (just at fault drivers). Consequentially, according to Talbot, by reducing the expenses of insurance companies, the insurance companies unilaterally choose to  lower the cost of their premiums for Louisiana residents.

Opponents of the bill rightly argue that its power-hungry proponents are taking advantage of honest citizens. Though the bill presents itself as looking out for Louisiana drivers, the bill will instead leave many victims of negligent and careless driving without being able to obtain the justice they deserve. Rather than settling cases outside of court and reducing court costs, the bill will force justice-seeking plaintiffs to take their cases to a jury trial, prolonging a verdict and clogging up courtrooms that could otherwise be free had the case been more expeditiously ruled by a judge. Moreover, by reducing the possible amount of medical expenses to be recovered by a given victim, the victim will often be left paying for large portions of his medical bills, himself, instead of that expense being charged to the person responsible for his damages.

In Arceneaux v. Turner, et al., the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a Lafayette trial court’s ruling that denied uninsured motorist coverage to a plaintiff. The plaintiff, Gerald Arceneaux, owned a towing company. In November of 2014, he was involved in a car accident while driving a 2012 Ford F250. In a sworn affidavit, Arceneaux stated that he was “on call” when the accident occurred and that the truck he was driving was outfitted with all tools and equipment necessary for any road side service request. Typically, Arceneaux would drive a Ford F450, but that vehicle was in need of repairs. After the accident, Arceneaux filed suit and sought uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage from his insurer. The insurer defended by filing a motion for summary judgment claiming that the policy did not provide coverage for the plaintiff’s claims.  The trial court granted the motion and Arceneaux appealed to the Third Circuit.

On appeal, the issue before the court was whether the F250 Arceneaux drove on the day of the accident could be considered a “temporary substitute vehicle” for Gerald Towing’s Ford F450 Wrecker. Citing Louisiana law, the defendant-insurer argued that Arceneaux could not recover, because he was operating his personal vehicle at the time of the accident and that the F250 was not a covered vehicle under the policy.  However, Arceneaux countered that under the policy the Ford F250 was a “replacement motor vehicle covered under the terms of the policy.” Moreover, the policy states that insureds are anyone occupying a “covered auto” or a “temporary substitute for a covered auto.” To support his claim, Arceneaux pointed to his sworn affidavit in which he stated that the F450 was in need of repairs on the date of the accident, and that he used the Ford F250 to perform work that could or would have been completed by the F450, if it was in service.

Turning to the facts and evidence, the Third Circuit agreed with the plaintiff that the Ford F250 served as a temporary substitute for a covered vehicle, specifically the Ford F450 Wrecker. Therefore, Arceneaux was an insured under the policy at the time of the accident and could potentially recover under his UM coverage. The Third Circuit reversed the trial court’s grant of the insurer’s motion to summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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