In many car accident cases, insurance companies become involved in the litigation, either in defending claims against their insureds or against themselves. In a May 1, 2017 decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland examined whether summary judgment was proper after misrepresentations made by the defendants’ insurance company caused the plaintiff to file his lawsuit outside the statute of limitations.
The action arose out of a car accident in which two of the defendants rear-ended the plaintiff’s vehicle. The two defendants and a third roommate lived together and were all insured through the same automobile insurance company. The roommate was not in the car at the time of the accident. However, following the accident, the insurance company contacted the plaintiff and identified the roommate as the insured party.
During subsequent communications with the plaintiff’s counsel, the insurance company acknowledged liability and paid for the plaintiff’s property damage claims under the roommate’s policy. When the plaintiff was unable to resolve his injury claim with the insurance company, he filed suit against the roommate. It was at this time that in-house counsel for the insurance company disclosed to the plaintiff that the actual driver was not the roommate. The plaintiff immediately filed an amended complaint against the two defendants, but the statute of limitations had already expired.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the doctrine of relation back should apply to his amended complaint. Ordinarily, the time limitation on a claim is measured from the date the cause of action accrued to the date the amended complaint was filed. The doctrine of relation back provides that when the factual situation remains essentially the same after the amended complaint as it was before it, the limitation is measured from the filing of the original complaint. The appeals court explained that if an amended complaint corrects the name of an original party, it relates back. However, if a new party is added, as the roommate was added in this case, it does not relate back.
The plaintiff also contended that equitable tolling should apply, alleging that the insurance company intentionally misled him into believing that the roommate was the responsible party in an effort to delay suit until the statute of limitations expired. Equitable tolling is an exception to untimely filing, and it is applicable when the plaintiff has been induced by the defendant’s conduct into allowing the filing deadline to pass. The court noted, however, that the plaintiff had access to the police accident report, which was public and available for review at any time. Furthermore, the defendants themselves did not mislead or provide incorrect information to the plaintiff or police. As a result, the judgment was affirmed.
The personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran can provide legal advice to individuals involved in Maryland auto accidents. Our aggressive lawyers have pursued negligence claims against careless drivers, businesses, and others in a range of civil actions, from medical malpractice to premises liability. To discuss your legal matter with a knowledgeable civil attorney, call Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or submit our online contact form and schedule an in-person consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Maryland Court Orders Insurance Company to Cover Loss for Wrongful Death Claims Arising Out of Car Accident, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 17, 2016
Maryland Court Finds Error in Admission of Past Traffic Offenses in Auto Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 10, 2016