In a recent opinion the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico denied an insurance company’s motion to bifurcate claims and stay discovery. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42(b), federal courts have the authority to take actions including ordering separate trials over multiple claims. The courts enjoy broad discretion with respect to granting or denying this relief and, also, with respect to related requests to stay discovery.
The plaintiff’s car had allegedly been rear-ended. Her complaint alleged that she had been stopped in traffic when a vehicle struck her vehicle from behind, and that she sustained serious personal injuries as a result. She sought to recoup damages for medical bills, enduring pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of household services.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff could not recover from the owner of the car that had rear-ended her car. This was because it was not the owner who was driving the car at the time of the accident. The owner’s mother was driving, and she allegedly had her license revoked prior to the accident for driving under the influence of alcohol and did not have liability insurance. The plaintiff therefore decided to pursue a recovery from her own automobile insurer, under the uninsured motorist coverage provisions of the insurance policy.
The plaintiff’s insurance company did not make a settlement offer that was acceptable. It made an offer for less than the full amount of the medical bills, taking the position that the plaintiff had reached the maximum medical improvement that she would achieve some two months after the accident. The plaintiff was of the view this was inadequate because the insurance company was ignoring her traumatic brain injury and much of her treatment, and did not address her punitive damages claims against the driver and owner of the car that rear-ended her car.
The plaintiff sued her insurance company and the insurance company responded with a motion to bifurcate her insurance bad faith claims from her contract claims for insurance coverage. The insurance company wished to have the plaintiff proceed in two phases. In the first phase she would be called upon to prove negligence to the jury. If she succeeded, she could pursue her claim against the defendant insurance company for failing to pay out on uninsured motorist coverage.
The court rejected the insurance company’s proposed pretrial bifurcation. The court reasoned that because the tortfeasor was completely uninsured the insurance company could not credibly dispute that it was under an obligation to pay the plaintiff some amount of money. Rather, the court was of the view that the dispute in the case was over how much the insurance company must pay, which in the court’s assessment was not so distinct an issue from whether the insurance company’s pre-litigation settlement offers were reasonable. In addition to denying the insurance company’s motion to bifurcate the claims, the court also denied bifurcated discovery. The court balanced the parties rights by leaving open the possibility of deciding at a later pretrial status conference that the plaintiff’s claims could be tried in multiple phases or presented to separate juries.
If you, a family member, or other loved one has been injured in an New Mexico car accident, you may be entitled by law to receive a financial recovery. Recovering personal injury damages can help people pay out-of-pocket costs including lost wages and medical bills. Sometimes a recovery can be complicated by the steps taken by insurance companies. We are here to help. To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued to maximize your financial recovery, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance. At the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C., we provide a free consultation and can be reached at 505-445-1604 or send us a message online.