Sunday, May 4, 2008

UM Arbitration Stayed

Matter of GEICO v. Coppolino
(Sup.Ct., Nassau Co., decided 4/15/2008)

Coppolino, a GEICO insured, was injured in an MVA while driving a vehicle insured by State Farm. According to the police accident report, the tortfeasor Kent's offending vehicle was insured by Hartford. For reasons not clear from the court's decision, Coppolino demanded arbitration of his UM claim with GEICO, rather than pursuing Kent. GEICO then commenced this special proceeding for a stay of that arbitration, naming Hartford and State Farm as proposed additional respondents.

GEICO established a prima facie case sufficient to warrant a temporary stay of the UM arbitration by submitting a police accident report that listed the Kent vehicle as insured by Harford and Coppolino's vehicle as insured by State Farm. As there was a "presumption of coverage" arising from the police report' s insurance code designation, the court found that GEICO had met its initial burden of presenting some evidence to establish that the allegedly offending vehicle was insured on the date of the accident. With GEICO having done so, the burden then shifted to Hartford to show that no such policy was in effect or applicable at the time of the occurrence.

In addition to ordering that Coppolino's UM arbitration be temporarily stayed, the court ordered that this proceeding be consolidated with a similar one that State Farm had previously commenced in relation to the UM claim of a passenger of the vehicle Coppolino was driving.

It sometimes happens that vehicle occupants file and pursue UM claims against the vehicle's insurer rather than contesting the coverage denial of the offending vehicle's insurer. We have even seen instances in which claimants have pursued UM coverage and demanded arbitration after the offending vehicle's insurer merely denies tort liability of the driver/owner, rather than coverage. In those instances, UM insurers should consider commencing a timely special proceeding under New York CPLR article 75 to stay arbitration, naming all involved insurers as additional repondents so that the coverage rights and responsibilities of all insurers may be determined and declared.

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