A New Mexico resident driving on the roads within the state gets in to an accident. The driver of the other vehicle causes the collision but does not possess any insurance coverage at the time. The New Mexico resident is injured and wants compensation for the costs of medical treatment and recovery. Since a claim against the other driver has little if no constructive purpose, as that driver lacks automobile insurance coverage, and likely will have insufficient personal assets, the fallback option is for the victim to make a claim against her own insurer under the terms of her uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
Back on October 6, 2010, Esther Otero was involved in such an accident as the driver of the car that hit her car failed to have automobile insurance coverage. She made a claim against Hartford Insurance Co., her car insurer, to seek compensation for her personal injuries under her policy’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. The purpose of this coverage is to allow one’s own insurance company to cover the damages stemming from an automobile accident when the at-fault driver either lacks coverage totally or has insufficient coverage to cover the claimed damages.
In this instance, Hartford denied coverage. During this same period of time, Hartford, in response to the dictates of a New Mexico Supreme Court case requiring insurers providing such coverage to reform all policies such that UM/UIM limits are made equal to the limits of liability coverage for all policies from 2004 through the date of the mailings. Ms. Otero reiterated her claim for damages but Hartford maintained its denial. Accordingly, Otero sued Hartford for breach of contract in refusing to cover her losses, failure to pay benefits despite coverage, negligence and recovery of punitive damages.
The District Court, in Otero v. Hartford Casualty Insurance Company, Civ. No. 13-601 MV/CG (Dist. Court, D. NM 2014) recently decided that Ms. Otero did have a cognizable claim for breach of contract against Hartford based on its refusal to cover her losses from the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage portion of her policy. The tort claims and punitive damages requests were dismissed as was Ms. Otero’s claim for uninsured motorist benefits as being duplicative of her breach of contract claim. Nevertheless insofar as she can recover a sufficient amount under her breach of contract claim to cover all of the losses associated with the accident, she should be in a position to be made whole. The decision by the District Court simply determined which claims were allowed to proceed. The Court has yet to reach the stage in which a trial would be conducted on the breach of contract claim. However, this case does vindicate the position that, if your insurance company refuses to provide coverage available via your policy, as amended by state law, the injured driver can bring a civil action for breach of contract against the insurer in pursuit of a fair recovery.
The attorneys at Giddens & Gatton Law, PC represent individuals in personal injury cases in New Mexico. Giddens & Gatton Law, PC is located at 10400 Academy Road N.E., Suite 350 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Call the office at (505) 633-6298 to set up an appointment or visit the firm’s website at giddenslaw.com.