Car Accident Victims Be Aware - You May Lose Your Right To Sue If You Challenge Your Insurer's Denial of No-Fault Benefits
On June 30, 2017 an upstate Appellate Court agreed that a lower Supreme Court Justice properly dismissed a car accident victim's lawsuit for a wrist injury because he unsuccessfully challenged his insurer's denial of "no-fault" benefits. All of us are entitled to demand that our automobile insurance company provide us with reimbursement for our lost wages and medical expenses (regardless of whose at fault for the accident) when we suffer injuries in a car accident. You can simultaneously file a lawsuit against the owner and driver of the offending vehicle and demand an arbitration hearing against any insurance company that fails to pay those benefits it contracted to pay.
If the insurance company refuses to pay your "No-Fault Insurance" benefits--you have the right to an arbitration hearing where an arbitrator (likely more favorable to the insurance company who pays their fees) will decide whether your injury is related to the accident. If the arbitrator finds that your - let's say wrist injury - was unrelated to the accident, the insurance company's decision to deny benefits will be upheld. So what happens if you have a lawsuit for injuries caused by the car accident and the insurance company denies your claim for lost wages or medical expenses? You risk being deprived of your right to a jury trial.
The Court in Rozewski v Trautman, 2017 WL 2820241 found that the Arbitrator's decision finding the plaintiff's wrist injury was not caused by the accident was binding and justified the dismissal of plaintiff's lawsuit without any trial. The Court relied on a legal theory called "collateral estoppel" which says that if you had a full and fair opportunity to litigate an identical issue in one forum - you don't get a second bite of the apple. The lesson to be learned is to fully consider not challenging the refusal of the insurance company to pay benefits until after the lawsuit is resolved (if at all)--just add those lost wages and medical expenses to your claim and let a jury decide.