In a recent personal injury case, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether a trial court erred by concealing the existence of the defendant’s excess liability insurer in a trial to determine liability for a car accident. In Kiknadze v. Sonneman (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Apr. 12, 2016), the parties were involved in a car accident. The plaintiff brought a negligence action against the defendant, who was insured by Progressive, and also notified the defendant’s excess liability insurer, State Farm, of a potential underinsured motorist (UIM) claim. The trial court granted State Farm’s motion to intervene in the case and prohibited the disclosure of State Farm’s identity to the jury. After a trial, the jury awarded over $20,000 to the plaintiff, who appealed the decision of the trial court to conceal State Farm’s involvement from the jury.
In Maryland, UIM coverage is designed to provide an injured insured with resources equal to those that would have been available had the tortfeasor carried liability coverage equal to the amount of coverage that the insured purchased from his or her own insurance company. Accordingly, Maryland is a gap theory state, meaning that injured insureds may recover the difference between their UIM coverage and money received from the tortfeasor. Excess coverage, on the other hand, is another form of insurance in which the insurer is liable only for any excess amount of the judgment remaining after the primary insurer has paid up to the limit of its policy. Generally, a UIM claim is brought against one’s own insurer for breach of contract. In most cases, the trial court will not typically exclude the existence of UIM coverage from the jury.
However, in Kiknadze v. Sonneman, State Farm was an excess liability insurer. The plaintiff’s claim against State Farm simply provided notice that he was seeking a judgment that would exhaust the defendant’s primary coverage limit under his Progressive policy. The court therefore held that State Farm’s participation did not violate the clearly established principle that the jury should be made aware of the precise identity of a UIM carrier if it is a party at trial. Furthermore, the court noted that the matter of liability insurance is irrelevant to the issue of the defendant’s liability and is highly prejudicial, while the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate any prejudice suffered as the result of concealing State Farm’s participation. As a result, the appeals court affirmed the decision of the trial court as well as the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of the negligent actions of another person or business, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you evaluate your legal options. The Maryland accident attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. represent victims of events leading to serious injuries, including car accidents, workers’ compensation, medical malpractice, and more. To discuss your case with one of our experienced attorneys, call (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.
More Blog Posts:
Maryland Court of Appeals Upholds “Gap” Insurance Policy in Pedestrian Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 31, 2015
Maryland Court Rules in Favor of Insurance Company in Car Accident Settlement Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published July 30, 2015