New Mexico Federal Court Bifurcates Contract-based Claims from Bad Faith Claims Against Insurance Company

A plaintiff injured in a New Mexico car accident who sues to recover damages for personal injuries often can assert causes of action based on multiple theories of recovery.  Under some circumstances, a defendant can successfully move to bifurcate the causes of action.  The consequences will depend on what stage the litigation is in when bifurcation is sought and can result, for example, in the litigation being split up so that discovery proceeds with respect to one or more causes of action while being stayed with respect to other causes of action.

In a recent case, the plaintiff asserted causes of action against an insurance company, which included breach of the underinsured motorist coverage provisions of the contract he had entered into with the insurance company that provided him car insurance, plus alleging bad faith.  The insurance company filed a successful motion to bifurcate the cause of action for denial of underinsured motorist coverage under the insurance contract from extra-contractual causes of action, and to stay discovery with respect to all extra-contractual causes of action.

The plaintiff had filed a lawsuit in the Twelfth Judicial District for Lincoln County, New Mexico.  He alleged that a teenager had driven her parents’ car into his truck while talking on her cell phone after rolling through a stop sign, and that this resulted in his truck spinning on two wheels and sustaining severe damage.  The plaintiff also alleged that he suffered grave injuries, which necessitated evaluation and treatment of his chest, hip, back and neck at the Lincoln County Medical Center. 

The driver of the car that hit the plaintiff’s truck was cited by local police for failing to yield the right of way.  After the plaintiff sued the parents of the driver and the plaintiff’s insurance company, the parents of the driver settled by tendering the $25,000 personal injury limit of their car insurance policy.  The plaintiff had underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) and so the lawsuit proceeded against the plaintiff’s insurance company.  This defendant removed the lawsuit from state court to federal court.

The plaintiff asserted that the insurance company wrongfully did not pay his medical expenses, and that this was its typical business practice.  The insurance company took the position that the plaintiff’s post-accident medical situation was about the same as it was prior to the accident on the basis he had pre-existing injuries and had undergone back surgery just months before the accident.  If this was so, then, conceptually, the plaintiff would be unable to satisfy the causation and damages elements of his claim for violation of the UIM provision of his insurance policy, rendering his bad faith claim moot.

In arriving at the conclusion that the two claims should be split up as the defendant sought, the Court critiqued the plaintiff for not responding to the motion to bifurcate, insofar as he had not presented a basis for a different result than that requested by the defendant.  The Court also critiqued the way the plaintiff’s complaint had been pleaded because the conduct complained of was mostly failure to pay the plaintiff’s medical expenses.  The Court was of the view the plaintiff could have further developed his cause of action for the unlawful trade practices and fraud act and insurance code violations in a way that could have cut in favor of proceeding on multiple theories of recovery.

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident or experienced property damage, there may be grounds for recovery against insurance companies and other parties.  Insurance companies tend to be very sophisticated litigants, and look for ways to slow down lawsuits in order to cause their insureds to settle for less than what they may be able to ultimately recover.  To understand more about your case and make an informed decision about your options for maximizing your recovery, call New Mexico insurance bad faith lawyer Matthew Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached at (505) 242-6267 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Legal Element of Causation Must be Proven in New Mexico Lawsuits Alleging Negligence

Bifurcation Not Mandated in Lawsuit by Insured Plaintiff against her Insurance Company Following Car Accident, According to New Mexico Court