Weiss & Hiller Forces Travelers Insurance to Defend and Indemnify Insured in Personal Injury Action

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After a two-year legal fight, The Travelers Indemnity Company, an affiliate of Travelers Insurance Company, has finally agreed to defend and indemnify one of its policyholders for a personal injury action arising from a slip and fall accident. The action is entitled, Dr. Lawrence Harris, MD, PC v. The Travelers Indemnity Company.

"Our client ... is glad to have obtained, not only the relief to which he was entitled, but also a measure of satisfaction that comes from standing up to the neighborhood bully, a tough-as-nails insurance company, and walking away a winner.

"Denied." That's what one New York policyholder was told after he notified his insurance carrier that his medical practice had been sued for an accident in which the claimant had allegedly broken her hip. The insurer, Travelers Indemnity Company, an affiliate of Travelers Insurance, alleged that the medical practice had not "timely" notified Travelers of the accident and that, as a consequence, Travelers had no duty to comply with its general liability insurance policy. The policyholder contacted Weiss & Hiller, PC, a law firm that specializes in suing insurance companies, and a lawsuit quickly ensued.

After a hard-fought legal battle, Travelers finally agreed to defend and indemnify the medical practice for the lawsuit. In addition, Weiss & Hiller obtained payment of legal fees from Travelers. Michael Hiller, the attorney at Weiss & Hiller who handled this matter, said that: "We're very gratified that Travelers came around on this one." He continued, "Our client had done nothing wrong and is glad to have obtained, not only the relief to which he was entitled, but also a measure of satisfaction that comes from standing up to the neighborhood bully, a tough-as-nails insurance company, and walking away a winner."

Insurance company denials for alleged late notice of general liability claims have historically been a serious problem for policyholders nationwide, particularly in New York. Unbeknownst to most insureds, insurance policies typically include a provision, buried in the deep recesses of legal jargon, that requires policyholders to notify the insurance company of any accident that occurs on their premises, even if they believe it to be unlikely to result in a claim. Hiller commented that "very few policyholders are aware of this provision and instead, notify their insurers only upon being sued, which, in most instances, is regarded by the insurance carriers as too late." Consequently, when policyholders are sued months or years later, their insurers, relying on the "late-notice" provision, regularly disclaim, leaving policyholders without the coverage for which they paid.

In response to this growing problem, in 2009, New York State passed legislation requiring insurance companies to prove that they have been prejudiced by the delayed notice. Unfortunately, the relatively new law applies only to claims made under policies that were written after the law went into effect. Hiller remarked that it will be at least another 2 years before policyholders receive the full benefit of the new law. Until then, Hiller warns, "if an accident occurs on your property or close enough to it so that a claim could possibly be made against you, fax a letter to your insurance company right away. Don't wait to get sued. If you do, your insurance company may disclaim coverage and you'll be left on your own."

The case, styled Dr. Lawrence Harris, PC, MD v. Travelers Indemnity Co., Index No. 23155-08, was venued in the New York State Supreme Court, County of Queens.

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Michael Hiller
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