Articles Posted in Insurance

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When searching for a homeowner’s insurance policy, many Rhode Island homeowners seek out the lowest premium or highest policy limits without paying much attention to the details of what types of losses are covered or excluded from a particular policy. In the event of an incident involving damage or loss, a homeowner may be denied coverage for some type of loss that they thought or assumed would be included in their policy. A recent decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court demonstrates this scenario.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a homeowner who purchased an insurance policy from the defendant. In May of 2017, the plaintiff’s water heater ruptured and caused flood damage to their home. Believing that the damage was covered by the homeowner’s policy, the plaintiff made a claim with the defendant which was denied. The plaintiff sued the defendant in district court, alleging that the policy included coverage for damage from the incident. The district court reviewed the insurance policy and determined that the text of the policy included an exclusion for water damage caused by a malfunctioning appliance in the dwelling and determined that the defendant was justified in denying the plaintiff’s claim.

The plaintiff appealed the ruling to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, pointing to language in the policy providing coverage for sudden, accidental, and direct physical loss caused by fire, explosion, or theft resulting from a flood or other water-related incident. The plaintiff claimed that the damage caused to their home should be covered under this provision, as the water heater exploded prior to the flooding. The high court denied the plaintiff’s arguments, finding that the clear and unambiguous language within the policy excluded any water damage resulting from a defective or malfunctioning appliance, and that the provision affording coverage to damage incident to flooding did not afford coverage for the type of damage reflected in the plaintiff’s claim.

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Most Rhode Island homeowner’s insurance policies insure the policyholder from personal liability for injuries and property damage that may occur both on the insured property as well as in other places. The personal liability protection is broad, but not unlimited, and many exclusions apply, depending on the specific homeowner’s insurance policy. In a recently decided appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled against an insurance company in their attempt to enforce an exclusion against a policyholder whose children and others were killed in an accident while vacationing at a cabin in Maine.

Prior to the filing of the recently decided case, a tragedy occurred when the two children of a Massachusetts property owner and two of their friends were celebrating a birthday at a Maine cabin that was also owned by the father. While in the cabin, the children and their friends used a gasoline-powered generator to run a small refrigerator inside the cabin. The generator was used inside the cabin and there was not adequate ventilation for the exhaust, resulting in the four individuals succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning and dying.

The estates of the two deceased friends notified the insurance company supplying homeowners insurance to the father’s Massachusetts primary residence that they would be seeking damages under that policy for the deaths of the two friends. The insurance company then filed suit in district court seeking a judgment that the incident was not covered under the policy because of an exclusion for incidents arising out of liability from another premises, as the Maine cabin was not an insured premises under the Massachusetts homeowner’s policy.

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A Massachusetts woman was mauled to death in a tragic dog attack that occurred less than 20 miles from Providence, Rhode Island last month. According to a local news report, the woman was having a seizure when she was attacked by her family’s eight-year-old pit bull. Medical crews and police were called to the scene to subdue the dog and render aid, and the woman was taken to a nearby hospital, where she died as a result of the injuries that she sustained. According to the woman’s family, she had owned the dog since it was a puppy, and the dog had not exhibited aggressive behavior toward the woman in the past, although her seizure may have caused the dog to panic and bite its owner.

Rhode Island dog bites cause serious injuries each year, and they often result in the hospitalization of the bite victim. Dog owners can be held accountable in a civil claim for the damages that result from their dog’s actions. Attacks that occur at the dog owner’s home, or possibly elsewhere, may be covered by a Rhode Island homeowner’s insurance policy, even in situations in which the bite victim is the owner of the home. Some insurance policies contain exclusions for dog or animal attacks, and homeowners should be sure to have the correct policy in effect and notify their insurance company if they intend to purchase a pet.

Homeowner’s insurance policy exclusions are not always black-and-white, and insurance companies have been known to deny coverage for an incident or injury based on a supposed exclusion in the policy, which may not be applicable or enforceable under state law. Insurance policies are sometimes written to benefit the insurance company and encourage denials of claims that are actually covered under the policy if someone takes a closer look. Dog bites aren’t the only type of injury that may be covered under a homeowner’s policy, and injuries that occur far from the property may also be covered. Any injuries that occur as a result of negligence by a homeowner or their dependent should be evaluated by a legal expert to determine if there is a possible claim under the homeowner’s insurance policy to recover damages.

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When someone is injured in a serious Rhode Island car accident, they will likely incur significant medical expenses, miss time away from work, and may also experience pain and suffering as a result of the accident. Rhode Island accident victims can pursue a claim against an at-fault driver to recover compensation for these damages.

While a Rhode Island personal injury lawsuit is technically filed against the at-fault driver, the claim will most likely be defended by that driver’s insurance company. In Rhode Island, all drivers and owners must be financially responsible, meaning they must obtain a certain amount of car insurance to cover the costs of a potential accident. Rhode Island uses a fault-based system, under which drivers will obtain insurance coverage to pay for the damages that they cause. This is referred to as liability coverage.

Most Rhode Island car insurance policies contain three parts: liability for bodily injury, liability for property damage, and un/underinsured motorist protection (UIM). As mentioned above, bodily injury liability coverage protects the insured against damages to other people they cause. Similarly, property damage liability coverage pays for damage to property caused by the insured. Notably, both bodily injury and property damage liability will cover damages caused by the insured, up to the policy limit. However, neither covers injuries suffered by the insured.

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The purpose of car insurance is to provide a way for accident victims to receive compensation for the injuries they sustain in a Rhode Island car accident. Indeed, without the existence of insurance, Rhode Island car accident victims would not be able to recover adequate compensation for their injuries unless the at-fault party happened to have sufficient assets to cover the expenses.

Despite the requirement that all drivers maintain insurance on their vehicles, the reality is that in many Rhode Island car accidents, the victim’s injuries far exceed the policy maximum of the at-fault driver’s insurance policy. In these situations, an accident victim can obtain underinsured/uninsured motorist (UIM) benefits under their own policy.

Under Rhode Island law, all insurance companies must offer UIM insurance when they write a policy. Additionally, all motorists must obtain a certain level of UIM insurance. Only in situations where a motorist obtains the minimum amount of liability insurance can they entirely waive UIM coverage.

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In Rhode Island, all motorists are required by law to maintain a certain amount of auto insurance on their vehicles. Under Rhode Island General Laws section 31-31-7, motorists must obtain liability insurance of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. In addition, motorists must obtain $25,000 worth of insurance per accident for property damage. Liability and property damage insurance protects the policyholder in the event that they cause a Rhode Island car accident by covering the costs incurred by victims of the accident. However, it is estimated that 17% of Rhode Island drivers do not maintain sufficient insurance on their vehicles.

If someone is involved in an accident that was caused by another motorist’s negligence, the at-fault motorist will be responsible for any injuries suffered by the accident victims. However, if the at-fault motorist does not have insurance, the accident victim will only be able to pursue a claim against the driver, who may not have the assets to compensate the injury victim adequately. This is where uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) protection comes into play.

Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist Protection in Rhode Island

Under a UIM policy, a policyholder is protected from accidents caused by an at-fault motorist who either has no insurance or does not have sufficient insurance to fully compensate the policyholder for the damages caused by the accident.

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Unless you are a lawyer, you probably don’t think about the specific procedures for filing a lawsuit. While you should always work with a knowledgeable Rhode Island insurance attorney if you are considering suing an insurance company, it can also be helpful to understand some of the procedural rules surrounding the case. A recent case heard by the Federal District Court of Rhode Island discusses these procedural requirements.

Jurisdiction

In order for a court to hear a case, they must have jurisdiction over the matter and the parties. Typically, claims related to insurance or personal injury are heard in state court. However, the case may be removed to federal court if certain conditions are met. One of the ways that a case may be eligible to be heard in federal court is through diversity jurisdiction.

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The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently issued an opinion that discusses when an arbitration award is allowed to stand. This is important for accident victims because many insurance policies include an arbitration provision. Arbitration may be required instead of traditional judicial proceedings under your policy. The difference between traditional legal remedies and arbitration is that generally arbitrations have more relaxed rules and are more informal. However, the most notable difference as shown by this case is that it is much more difficult to appeal an arbitration award than it is to appeal a judge’s verdict. In fact, that is one of the selling points of arbitration since the case comes to a final conclusion much sooner and thus it is usually much less expensive than traditional litigation. Even though arbitration is less formal than courtroom proceedings, it is still important to hire a knowledgeable Rhode Island insurance attorney to handle your case.

Facts of the Case

An employee of the Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB) was driving her employer’s vehicle when she got into an accident. The other driver was determined to be at fault. Since Rhode Island is a fault state, the driver who is responsible for the accident is required to pay damages to the other driver.

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This summer, a plaintiff appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court a bench trial judgment for defendant, GEICO, in an underinsured motorist (UM) insurance case. Plaintiff was injured after leaving her car to provide aid to victims of a car crash. The state high court held that the plaintiff was entitled to UM coverage under the vehicle’s policy in light of Rhode Island insurance law requiring her to provide aid.

Before trial, the parties both filed for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that the only issue was whether the plaintiff was “occupying” her car at the time of the injury and that there were no genuine issues of material fact. Defendant argued that the plaintiff could not recover based on the unequivocal language of GEICO’s policy. Plaintiff argued that she was covered due to the broad definition of “occupying” outlined by the Rhode Island Supreme Court in General Accident Insurance Co. of America v. Olivier.

The trial judge analyzed “occupying” based on the four prong test in Olivier, but ultimately concluded the plaintiff didn’t prove a causal connection between her insured car and her injuries. Thus, the trial judge held that the plaintiff couldn’t recover UM benefits because the first Olivier prong wasn’t satisfied. Plaintiff appealed.

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In a recent Rhode Island case, the state supreme court had to decide whether a defendant was entitled to an annuity policy.

Plaintiff appealed from a Superior Court judgment in favor of Defendant, the beneficiary of an Amica Insurance Company annuity policy created by the plaintiff’s great-uncle and the defendant’s brother. This Rhode Island insurance law case came before the state’s Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause as to why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties’ written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, the Rhode Island Supreme Court concluded that cause had not been shown and that the case could be decided without further briefing or argument.

Among other assets accumulated during his twenty-five-year career with the Providence Police Department and subsequent twenty-five years as a security officer for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the great-uncle owned two Amica annuity policies. At the time of his death, one account was valued at approximately $360,000 and the other at $20,000; only the larger account is the subject of this appeal. The two annuities were opened approximately a decade apart and each named the great-uncle’s sister as the primary beneficiary. After the sister’s death in 2002, the great-uncle executed two change-of-beneficiary forms naming the defendant, his younger sister, as the beneficiary of both policies.

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