Most civil lawsuits involving personal injury are subject to a statute of limitations, or time limit, after which a party has no legal recourse unless a special exception applies. When this happens, it is often said that the statute of limitations has been “tolled.” Both the length of the limitations period and the possibility of tolling can vary widely, depending upon the state in which the accident occurred.
The recent case of Beaumont v. Zeru discussed the extent to which an insurance company’s payment of certain benefits affects the time period during which an injured motorist may file suit against the responsible party.
The Facts of the Case
In April 2008, the defendant ran a stop sign, striking the plaintiff’s vehicle and causing her significant physical injuries. Following the accident, the plaintiff contacted her own insurance company to make a claim for basic reparations/personal injury protection benefits (PIP). In July 2010, the plaintiff’s attorney wrote a letter to the insurance company to inquire as to when it had made its last PIP payment. The insurance company’s representative responded that the company had made a payment in September 2009. The plaintiff filed suit in September 2011, within two years of the date provided by the insurance company’s representative.
The defendant sought summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff’s complaint was untimely. In support of his motion, he attached an August 2009 letter from the insurance company to a different medical provider, stating that it was only making a partial payment because the plaintiff’s PIP benefits had been exhausted.
As it turned out, the payment about which the insurance company’s representative informed the plaintiff’s attorney was a replacement check that had been issued because a check originally issued in March 2009 had been lost.
The Trial Court’s Judgment
The circuit court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice. The court of appeals affirmed.
The Holding of the Kentucky Supreme Court
On further appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court, the court reversed the lower courts’ decisions and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The court began by quoting Kentucky Revised Statutes § 304.39-230(6), which states that an action for tort liability can be commenced no later than two years after the last PIP payment made by any reparation obligor. The court then noted that the legislature had not defined “payment” and that this was a case of first impression before the court.
In ruling in the plaintiff’s favor, the court determined that the original March 2009 check did not truly represent a payment because it had not been presented and honored. The court disagreed with the defendant’s arguments that havoc would result from timing payments to anything other than the insurer’s PIP log and that such a ruling would require parties to invade the banking records of insurers and providers. The court also rejected the defendant’s assertions that he should be able to rely on the insurance company’s statement regarding the exhaustion of benefits in August 2009 and that stare decisis required the supreme court to follow contrary opinions of the court of appeals.
To Speak to an Experienced Accident Attorney
If your life has been disrupted by a car wreck or tractor-trailer accident caused by someone else’s negligent or reckless driving, you should consult an attorney about your rights as soon as possible. To schedule an appointment to discuss your Kentucky or Tennessee accident case, call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley at (270) 781-6500. Please keep in mind that the statute of limitations for car accidents is considerably shorter in Tennessee, so calling sooner rather than later is especially important for Tennessee accident victims.
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