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.
The PWSB had underinsured motorist insurance through Argonaut Insurance Company. Underinsured motorist coverage is insurance that drivers (or in this case the PWSB, the owner of the vehicle) purchase to make up for shortfalls between the other insurance policies and the actual amount of damages. Since the parties could not come to an agreement about how much Argonaut should pay the driver, the issue was brought to arbitration. Arbitration was required under the policy that PWSB had with Argonaut.
Outcome of Arbitration
At the time of arbitration, the plaintiff had already received some benefits from other insurance policies. Specifically, the at fault driver’s policy had paid her the $25,000 policy limit, her personal insurer paid her $25,000, and PSWB’s workers’ compensation paid her $258,303. Thus, at arbitration two of the three arbitrators determined that Argonaut was able to offset any damages by $308,303, the money she had already been paid.
Further, the majority of arbitrators found that the plaintiff had pre-existing conditions that affected her lower back. They found that the accident did exacerbate these conditions, but that the hip replacement she had was not due to the accident, but as a result of her pre-existing conditions. Thus, the insurers should not be responsible for costs related to the hip replacement. Therefore, the majority of arbitrators determined that she was not entitled to any money from Argonaut as she had already received more than she was entitled to by the other insurers.
Review of Arbitration Awards
As she was not happy with the arbitration award, the injured driver appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. She was asking to depose the dissenting arbitrator, and to vacate the arbitration award. She argued that it was an error of law for the arbitrators to include the workers’ compensation amount in the total offset amount.
Here, the Supreme Court held that there was no basis for deposing the dissenting arbitrator. The court also held that the arbitration award will stand, as it did not meet any of the very narrow criteria that is required to overturn an arbitration award. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s determination and held that even if it was a mistake of law to include the workers’ compensation in the offset amount, a mistake of law is not enough to overturn an arbitration award.
Contact an Experienced Rhode Island Insurance Attorney Today!
Insurance policies are intended to compensate policy holders for the losses that they have suffered. However, sometimes insurance companies do not want to pay what accident victims are entitled to. The knowledgeable Rhode Island insurance attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, can help you to get the insurance money that you are entitled to. Call (401) 300-4055 or use the form on this web site to contact us today for a free consultation!
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