Recovering Against the At-Fault Driver’s Insurer in a Car Accident Lawsuit?

carRepresenting yourself in a car accident lawsuit is rarely a good idea. Often, personal injury law and insurance law have nuances that laypeople may not know, and you can harm your chances of recovery by going it alone.

In a recent North Carolina appellate case, the court considered an accident in which the defendant drove a car into the plaintiff while he stood in the driveway, causing him to suffer serious injuries. The State charged her with crimes, and she pled guilty to Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle and Driving Left of Center. She was sentenced to 16-29 months in prison. However, once she’d served the mandatory minimum, she was released.

The car owner’s insurer, United Services Automobile Association (USAA), offered the plaintiff a $30,000 settlement based on the policy terms. The plaintiff was disappointed by the settlement offer and the release of the defendant, and he sued. He and his wife represented themselves.

They had numerous causes of action, including negligence, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, constructive fraud, and others. The defendants included the driver, the owner of the car, and the State of North Carolina, as well as USAA, the insurer of the driver. They also sued state officials, such as the Governor of North Carolina, the Attorney General, the DPS Secretary, and the Department of Transportation Secretary.

They moved to dismiss the complaint, among other things. The trial granted the State defendants’ motion to substitute parties and motion to dismiss the complaint, and then it granted two of the other defendants’ motions. The plaintiffs appealed, arguing that there were numerous constitutional violations in the dismissal. They argued the judge’s judicial misconduct was a constitutional violation of the right to petition for redress and that the judge had erred in dismissing the constitutional claims against the state. They argued that the driver had been convicted of felony DWI and therefore wasn’t eligible for earned time to get a sentence reduction, thereby owing society at least four months in prison.

The appellate court dismissed certain issues as abandoned or not raised at the lower level. It considered the unfair and deceptive trade practices claim against one defendant, the claims against the State defendants, and the wife’s claim against an individual.

It explained that there was no cause of action for third-party claimants against an insurer of an adverse party due to an unfair and deceptive trade practice under N.C.G.S. § 75-1.1. There is an exception to this general rule when an injured victim of an auto accident is an intended third-party beneficiary of an insurance contract between the insurer and the insured party who caused the accident. However, for this exception to apply, a third party, such as the plaintiffs, needs to obtain a judgment against the insured person in order to sue its insurer.

Since the plaintiffs hadn’t established the liability of the driver, they could not sue the insurance company. The plaintiffs argued that a judgment wasn’t necessary under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-279.21(f)(2). The appellate court disagreed.

The wife had requested contract rescission and a declaratory judgment. The appellate court explained that this was not an appeal from a final judgment, and therefore it didn’t have jurisdiction. The lower court’s judgment was affirmed in part and dismissed in part.

If you suffered harm in a car accident in North Carolina, the experienced attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.

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Wrongful Death and Contributory Negligence in North Carolina