Uninsured | Underinsured Motorist Accidents Lawyer
Woodland Hills car accident lawyer Barry P. Goldberg is an expert on all aspects of Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Law, especially arbitration. Many experienced personal injury lawyers fail to recognize that Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist cases (UM/UIM) have more than just one limitation period. There is a “regular” statute of limitations to preserve the uninsured motorist claim itself, and another limitation period for concluding the arbitration. Once a formal institution of arbitration has been initiated in either a UM or UIM case, the arbitration must absolutely be concluded within five years. (Ins. Code §11580.2(i)(2)(a)) Of course, an insured’s certified written demand for arbitration is synonymous with a “formal institution” of the arbitration. Also, notifying the insurer that a lawsuit was filed within two years. Santangelo v. Allstate Ins. Co. (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 804, 811-12.
Are there any exceptions to the five-year limitations period?
The five-year limitations period to conclude a UM or UIM arbitration may be extended in cases of estoppel, impracticability, impossibility, futility or waiver. (Ins. Code §11580.2(i)(3); Code Civ. Proc., §583.340(c)) A summary of the applicable case law demonstrates that the greater the extent to which difficulty is shown to affect the claimant’s ability to “mov[e] the case to trial” during the statutory period, the greater the likelihood that the claimant would be successful in extending the limitations period. (Gaines v. Fidelity National Title Ins. Co. (2016) 62 Cal.4th 1081, 1101.) However, an insured must stay informed of dates and deadlines, and that obligation gets progressively larger as the time runs. (Jordan v. Superstar Sandcars (2010) 182 Cal.App.4th 1416, 1422; see also, De Santiago v. D & G Plumbing, Inc. (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 365, 371.
An insured should not only be aware of when the limitations period expires, but the urgency to comply and to have the insurer comply, should magnify over time. It is important to demonstrate effort through calls, letters, emails, etc. which demonstrate diligence in completing the arbitration. Because UM/UIM arbitration was designed to be a more speedy and efficient form of dispute resolution than litigation, there is an elevated diligence requirement. (Santangelo v. Allstate Ins. Co. (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 804, 811-16.)
Who has jurisdiction to decide if the 5-year limitation period should be extended?
Although UM/UIM cases are handled by arbitrators, an arbitrator’s scope is narrow. Arbitrators are only given jurisdiction to decide whether the insured is legally entitled to recover damages, and, if so, what amount of damages they are entitled to recover. (Ins. Code §11580.2(f)); Freeman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. (1975) 14 Cal.3d 473, 485.) In fact, the Insurance Code specifically provides: “The doctrines of estoppel, waiver, impossibility, impracticality, and futility apply to excuse a party’s noncompliance with the statutory timeframe, [shall be] determined by the court.” (§11580.2(i)(3))
Although the courts favor arbitration, there is a strong public policy against forcing parties to arbitrate issues that are not expressly agreed to or required by statutory construction. (Freeman, supra,14 Cal.3d at 481) It is not unusual for an insured and insurer to grant an arbitrator power to determine limitations periods or discovery disputes. Typically, however, the court will handle such disputes.
If you have an uninsured or underinsured motorist arbitration issue, we recommend consulting with an experienced uninsured or underinsured motorist accidents lawyer.