Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Liberty Mutual Loses Five Year Battle to Avoid Paying $734

How many ways can an insurance company find not to pay your medical bills?  Well, quite a few.  Some are  inventive and require long-term planning on the part of the insurance company and sometimes groups of insurance companies.  The lengths to which an insurance company will go to avoid making payments under a valid policy, even one on which you have been making premium payments for years, can be quite impressive in their creativeness.


Here are the facts:  

N.E. Physical Therapy Plus, Inc. (NEPT) provided therapeutic services to the passenger of Liberty Mutual’s insured after they were involved in an accident.  NEPT invoiced Liberty Mutual for the services to the passenger.  Liberty disputed the amount of the bills, which were for chiropractic care over the course of about three months and were in the total amount of $4465.00.  Liberty thought the bills were unreasonably high.  Frankly, they do not sound that high to me for three months of treatment.  Liberty paid all but $734.32.  NEPT wanted the rest, so they sued Liberty in the Lawrence District Court back in 2008. 

In that Court, Liberty wanted to introduce into evidence statistical analysis produced by a company called Ingenix, Inc.  This company was owned by United Health Group, the owner of United Health Care, which is one of the biggest health insurers in the country.  Ingenix collects information from insurance companies across the country on the prices they have paid for various health services, like chiropractic care.  It then produces reports which analyze whether the costs claimed by a provider are too high in a given geographic area.  Not surprisingly, the Ingenix information indicated that the NEPT bills were too high. 

The District Court Judge found that the Ingenix material was not reliable and did not allow it in to evidence at trial.  Liberty lost.  So, they owed NEPT $734.32.  Of course, Liberty appealed over this small amount of money.  It’s the principal of the thing.  Insurance companies do not like “bad law”.  Bad law, as they call it, is law that may in the future cost them more money.  That’s why they fought tooth and nail. It was not just the $734.32. 

Liberty also lost at the next level, the District Court Appellate Division.   Then they appealed to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, where Liberty lost again.  Finally, the Supreme Judicial Court took the case.  Here is what the SJC said:  

“… Ingenix is a sister company to one of the largest insurance providers in the country; it relies on the voluntary submission of data on medical costs from the limited universe of insurance companies who choose to participate in the program; it applies a proprietary relative value and conversion factor to the raw data; and it has never verified that the data produced as a result of this formula accurately correspond with actual charges for medical procedures.”

               “In other words, the data contained in the Ingenix database derives from raw data that is voluntarily submitted by participating insurance companies, not fully verified, and to which Ingenix applies its proprietary methodologies. On a largely identical record, the Appellate Division of the District Court held "there is nothing in the record to establish the accuracy or reliability of Ingenix's raw data and, thus, its statistical extrapolations." [citation omitted]

“In addition to this evidence, the judge had before him evidence that the New York Attorney General conducted an investigation of Ingenix and found that the "rates produced by Ingenix were remarkably lower than the actual cost of typical medical expenses." On such a record, we *367 cannot say that the judge abused his discretion in excluding the evidence. … See Cruz v. Commonwealth, 461 Mass. 664, 670 (2012).”  At 466 Mass. 358, 367 (2013).  

So, what does all of this tell us?  Well, think of it this way:  the auto insurance providers are selling a product that you and I are legally required to buy. That’s darn good for sales.  Despite that, Liberty Mutual fought for 5 years because it wanted unreliable insurance industry data to be taken seriously by the Massachusetts Courts.  How many of your tax dollars were used up through all of these hearings and trials over the course of five years?  

Probably more than $734.32.   

John Rocco Severino, a former staff counsel for GEICO, and for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, is now a lawyer practicing plaintiff's personal injury law and criminal defense.  His attorney services are available in Middlesex County and Essex County.  Towns include: Andover, Lawrence, Tewksbury, Dracut, Lowell, Chelmsford, Westford, Tyngsborough, Dunstable, Groton, Ayer, Shirley, Pepperell, Townsend, Littleton, Billerica, Salem, Middleton, Beverly, Peabody, Lynnfield, Danvers, and more.

Monday, January 6, 2014

When Insurance Companies Won't Pay

Hello friends, and welcome to our first blog post. In this blog I will primarily discuss our relevant areas of practice, like personal injury, criminal defense, and firearms law. Of course, I will once in a while probably render a humble opinion about a law-related news story.

Today, I would like to discuss personal injury and insurance coverage. Anyone who knows me knows that I like to say that insurance companies will not pay for injuries in accidents if they can find, create, or argue for any way to avoid it. I know, because I used to work for them. I found lots of ways to avoid liability, and won a lot of trials for more than one insurance company.

Let’s talk about a recent case that relates to a pretty common situation in our everyday lives. Most of us have rented a vehicle at some point in our lives. Here is a brief description of a recent case here in Massachusetts involving a rental car situation. The name of the case is WAYNE MAHONEY vs. AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, 83 Mass.App.Ct. 677 (2013).

 Here are the facts: Hill rented a car from Hertz. Teague was driving the car without Hill in it and was the at-fault, or negligent driver. Teague was not listed on the Hertz rental agreement. She did not even have a license. While driving, Teague negligently crossed the center line and hit another vehicle, driven by Mahoney. The innocent driver, Mahoney, was seriously hurt. After the accident, Mahoney sued Teague for negligent operation and Hill (the renter and the person with AAIC insurance) for negligently allowing Teague to drive the car Mahoney wanted to recover his damages, which were assessed in a court hearing, at $74,000.00. Hertz settled for $20,000, the limits of its insurance policy, on behalf of the driver and the renter.

 American Automobile Insurance Company was the car insurer for the renter, Hill, and AAIC declined to provide coverage for the renter and the driver in order to cover Mahoney’s claims. The company argued that the driver had been using the Hertz rental vehicle without the consent of Hertz, the actual owner of the vehicle.

Mahoney wanted the Court to find that AAIC should have to pay for his damages, but the Court held that since the driver was not listed on the Hertz rental agreement when she got into the accident, that she did not have the consent of the owner of the vehicle, Hertz, to be driving the car. AAIC therefore did not have to pay under its policy, whether or not the renter gave the driver permission.

This left the renter and driver underinsured to cover Mahoney’s damages. Let’s hope Mr. Mahoney had a good underinsured motorist policy at the time of the accident. This coverage is optional in Massachusetts, and the case above is a good example of why you need it.

 Thanks for listening and for visiting the site! Your comments are welcome. Please come back.