Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Not UM and SOL

Matter of American Transit Ins. Co. v. Rosario
(1st Dept., decided 11/17/2015)

If your insured's New York lawsuit against the Pennsylvania liability insurer of the tortfeasor's vehicle was dismissed for lack of  personal jurisdiction, is that vehicle uninsured?  And what's the statute of limitations for making a UM coverage claim?

Rosario allegedly was injured in a 2004 motor vehicle accident in Bronx County with Carela, who was insured by American Independent Insurance Company, a Pennsylvania corporation.  Rosario brought a personal injury action action and in 2009 obtained a default judgment against Carela.  In 2012 Rosario sued American Independent in Bronx County Supreme Court under New York Insurance Law § 3420(a)(2) to collect on her default judgment against Carela.  In 2013 American Independent's motion to dismiss Rosario's direct action was granted on the ground that Rosario lacked personal jurisdiction over American Independent.

Rosario then made and demanded arbitration of her claim for uninsured motorists (UM) coverage benefits from her own auto insurer, American Transit, claiming that the 2013 dismissal of her direct action against American Independent rendered the Carela vehicle "uninsured".  American Transit commenced this special proceeding for a permanent stay of Rosario's UM claim arbitration, arguing that the applicable six-year limitations period had expired. Supreme Court rejected that argument and denied the petition, leading to this appeal.

In REVERSING Supreme Court's order and granted the petition for a permanent stay of arbitration, the Appellate Division, First Department, held that the applicable six-year statute of limitations had expired:
A claim for UIM benefits is governed by the six-year statute of limitations applicable to contract actions (see Matter of De Luca [Motor Veh. Acc. Indem. Corp.], 17 NY2d 76, 79 [1966]). The claim accrues either when the accident occurs or when subsequent events render the offending vehicle uninsured (Matter of Allstate Ins. Co. v Morrison, 267 AD2d 381, 381 [2d Dept 1999]). Since there is more than a six-year lapse between the accident and the demand for arbitration, respondent must show that a later accrual date than the accident date is applicable, and that due diligence was used to determine whether the offending vehicle was insured on the date of the accident (id. at 381-382). Respondent failed to make this showing. 
The First Department also held that a dismissal of a direct action against the tortfeasor vehicle's liability insurer does not render that vehicle "uninsured":
Supreme Court's ruling that there was no personal jurisdiction over American Independent in New York was not an event that rendered the offending vehicle uninsured within the meaning of Insurance Law § 3420(f)(1) (see American Tr. Ins. v Barger, 13 Misc 3d 386, 389 [Sup Ct, NY County 2006]). Rather, it was simply a ruling that respondent could not pursue its action against American Independent in a New York court (accord Matter of Government Empls. Ins. Co. v Basedow, 28 AD3d 766 [2d Dept 2006]; Matter of Eagle Ins. Co. v Gutierrez—Guzman, 21 AD3d 489 [2d Dept 2005]). Because no event rendered the offending vehicle uninsured, the statute of limitations for respondent's UIM claim began to run on the date of the accident, May 6, 2004, and expired six years later. Accordingly, respondent's demand for UIM arbitration, filed on or about February 10, 2014, was untimely and the arbitration should be permanently stayed.

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